Guns, knives and gang culture

The Archbishop has commented on many occasions about the issues surrounding young people, guns, knives and gang culture.

Dr Sentamu worked on inquiries into the 1993 racist killing of Stephen Lawrence and the stabbing in 2000 of the Nigerian schoolboy Damilola Taylor who was killed in 2001 on the way home from an after-school club.

When the Criminal Justice Bill proposed longer prison sentences, Dr. Sentamu responded vehemently to the politicians, believing that increasing the severity of sentences would not put an end to the shootings and gang culture. Legislation and enforcement alone, will not solve gun crime. The Archbishop's stance is that whilst statuatory agencies have their place, the primary responsibility must be with the children's parents.

In the aftermath of the murders of Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare much was said by the government about the need for "an improved strategic multi-agency response" to direct young people away from gun crime.

The Archbishop wrote in the national press at the time that: 

'Parents must shoulder the responsibility for where their children are, who they are with and what they are doing. The state cannot do this and nor should it be expected to. We cannot at the same time complain about a "nanny state" or a "big brother society" and then expect the state to raise our children. It is not the primary responsibility of teachers, social workers or probation officers to teach values, distinguish between right and wrong, or to provide a moral compass to our young people. Each of these groups can play their part in assisting or supporting parents but they cannot replace them.

There are shared values that can be both taught and learnt. Values are learnt in the home and then replicated in the street. If there is a vacuum of values at home, if parents absolve themselves of this responsibility, the values of the street will be replicated in the home and violence will come home to roost. The Church has a role to play in supporting parents and the family as a whole to nurture and value life, to glimpse the Divine in the other, and to know the transforming values and life that comes from a living relationship with Jesus Christ. These values are being played out through the work of groups like "Bringing Hope" in Birmingham and others who recognise the power of Church as community as an alternative to gang identity and the value of one-to-one peer mentoring.

What must be avoided are the politics of fear that take the truly tragic deaths of a number of young people and creates an all consuming moral panic which pressurises politicians to adopt short term tactics to reduce gun crime by increasing streetlights, promoting video surveillance, putting more police on the streets and ever longer sentences upon perpetrators. The other danger is that we succumb to the BSE mentality of Blame Someone Else. The cure to this malady is taking responsibility for our actions or non-action.

So we the people of the United Kingdom, and particularly parents, need to give our young people the reasons and values that lead them to turn away from the gun that is offered, from the knife that is held and from the gangs which seek them. It is only at this point that all the support which can be offered will make any difference. The responsibility is ours and working as a team each achieves more.'

As Edmund Burke wrote: "For evil to triumph it requires only that good people do nothing."

Bringing positive changes

Richard Taylor OBE - father of Damilola Taylor contributed a chapter in John Sentamu's Agape Love Stories book and shared how he and his late wife Gloria founded the Damilola Taylor Trust to bring positive change to inner city communities and increase the options and opportunities available to youngsters in those areas.

Beverley Thomas, mum of twin girls Sophie and Charlene Ellis, also contributed a chapter to John Sentamu's Agape Love Stories. Beverley shared how she has campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of the problems of gang culture and to help rid Birmingham’s streets of gun crime. Her twin daughters Charlene and Sophie Ellis were outside a party in the early hours of 2 January 2003 when four men pulled up in a car and opened fire with a MAC-10 machine gun and two automatic 9mm pistols, killing 18-year-old Charlene and her friend Letisha Shakespeare, 17. 

In April 2017, the Archbishop interviewed Gee Walker for a lent series for BBC Songs of Praise.  Gee also contributed a chapter to John Sentamu's Agape Love Stories. Her 18-year-old son Anthony was murdered on 29 July 2005 in an unprovoked racial attack at a park in Huyton, Merseyside. Out of her grief the Anthony Walker Foundation was born, a charity working to promote racial harmony through education, sport and the arts.

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

Nelson Mandela (Long Walk to Freedom)