London – VIJAY SHAH via GEORGIA DIEBELIUS and Metro
The crimewave of stabbings and shootings which has dominated headlines in the London area and across the United Kingdom’s media in recent months shows no sign of abating as two men were attacked in the city only last evening, the newspaper Metro reported.
In Peckham, south-east London, police and an air ambulance were called to a man who was reportedly shot in the face. Witnesses at the crime scene told Metro that a blue Ford vehicle had been cordoned off by police as part of their searches. The driver-side window was said to be shattered. Accounts of the shooting and its aftermath were shared on social media network Twitter. One commenter tweeted: “Shooting in Peckham. Apparently someone got shot in the face with a shotgun”. Another observer added: “Apparently someone has been shot in the face. I feel ill. The road is locked.”. Locals gathered around to try and help the stricken victim, who has not yet been identified.
Just an hour earlier in nearby Greenwich, a man was stabbed by assailants unknown. Police also attended this incident. As with the Peckham shooting, no details of the victim have yet been furnished publicly. A Metropolitan Police Service spokesperson told Metro “Police in Southwark were called to Wodehouse Avenue, SE5 at 7.56pm on Saturday, 2 June following reports of a shooting.
‘Armed police attended and found a man suffering from gun shot injuries. ‘He has been taken to hospital by London Ambulance Service. We await an update on his condition.
‘A second man was also found with injuries at the scene and has been taken to hospital for assessment. His condition is believed to be stable. ‘No arrests have been made. A crime scene remains in place. Enquiries continue.”
Paris – VIJAY SHAH via CHRIS BAYNES and The Independent
Everyone loves a bargain. But on the negative side, a shopper’s paradise can very rapidly turn into a shopper’s nightmare when people turn ugly over bagging cut-price goods. Just ask any retail worker on a Black Friday in Britain. That free-for-all mentality became very obvious this past week in France, when local supermarket chain Intermarché heavily reduced the price of Nutella hazelnut and chocolate spread, only for riots to ensure and people reported injured in mad scrambles and store fisticuffs.
Intermarché unveiled a special promo on the popular spread, manufactured by Italian firm Ferrero SpA, reducing the price from €4.50 (£3.90) to €1.41 (£1.23) for the 950 gram jar. Customers keen to get their Nutella crepe fix practically fought over the jars in the aisles, causing police to be called to several of the chain’s outlets. There were reports of people pushing and shoving, with one woman left bleeding and a supermarket worker ambushed as they brought fresh stocks of Nutella to the shop floor.
According to UK newspaper the Independent, French social media users shared footage of shoppers swarming around shelves of the spread, jostling each other. “Seriously? All this for Nutella,” remarked one stunned bystander. Another commented: “This is not normal.”
One customer was said to have suffered a black eye during a fight that broke out over the sweet spread in a store in the town of L’Horme, in the central Loire region. That store sold out of Nutella in only fifteen minutes, a store employee told newspaper Le Progres. The manager of another Intermarché in Rive-de-Gier, central France, said 600 pots were sold within five minutes. One customer described shoppers as “like animals”.
“A woman had her hair pulled, an elderly lady took a box on her head, another had a blood [sic] hand,” they said. “It was horrible.”
Some extremely desperate Nutella fans in the town of Montbrison, also in central France, went to the extent of hiding Nutella jars in secret places in the shop, ready to harvest them the next day, while keeping the precious foodstuffs out of the sight of rival shoppers. The manager of that store, Jean-Marie Daragon, tried to remedy the madness by bringing in a Nutella rationing scheme, limiting customers to three jars per person.
Alba, Piedmont-based manufacturer Ferrero condemned the violence across the border but also distanced itself from Intermarché and its controversial promotion. “We wish to clarify that this promotion was decided unilaterally by the Intermarché brand,” it said in a statement.
Nutella is extremely popular in France, with 100 million jars a year consumed by citizens, making France one of the hazelnut and chocolate flavoured spread’s biggest markets globally.
In the second day of violence in the French-speaking West African nation, five people were killed yesterday as Niger was gripped by religious violence stirred up by the publication of the cartoons in France, which have seen widespread condemnation by Muslim communities across the globe. Charlie Hebdo,a well-known satirical publication that frequently mocks politicians and religions, was the victim of an atrocity last week in which seventeen people, including the editor, Stephane Charbonnier alias Charb, several members of his cartoonists team and three police officers were gunned down by two brothers, the Kouachis, said to have links to Islamic State in Syria. Four shoppers were also taken hostage by another militant at a kosher supermarket, also in Paris, and were killed along with the militant, identified as Amedy Coulibaly, when police raided the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Vincennes on the 9th of January.
The magazine defied the militants by publishing a ‘survivors’ edition’ featuring a cartoon depiction of the founder of Islam crying under the words “Tout est pardonné” (“All is forgiven“). This edition led to numerous protests across the world by Muslims offended by the depiction of their prophet. Islam forbids the depiction of living things, especially Muhammad, as it can be seen as encouraging the unpardonable sin of idolatry. The Charlie Hebdo killings were roundly condemned by leaders of France’s 5 million-strong Muslim minority, many who have become the victims of Islamophobic revenge attacks in the wake of the militant attack last week.
Reporting from the Niger capital Niamey, Reuters journalists say the country has been rocked by two days of violence, and that the death toll has already reached ten. Gangs of youths were reported to have set fire to shops, businesses and places of worship belonging to Niger’s Christian community after a meeting of local Muslim community leaders was allegedly banned by the authorities. Police attempted to battle the rampage and contain the youths by using tear gas. The youths retaliated by throwing stones, before attacking a police station and torching two squad cars in the vicinity.
One of the protesters, named by Reuters as Amadou Abdoul Ouahab, was quoted as saying “They offended our Prophet Mohammad, that’s what we didn’t like,”
Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou announced that the five killed on Saturday (17 January 2014) were all civilians. Four were burned to death inside blazing churches and bars selling alcoholic drinks. The Niger president said that an inquiry into the killings would take place and organisers of the riots would be apprehended and punished. “Those who pillage religious sites and profane them, those who persecute and kill their Christian compatriots or foreigners who live on our soil, have understood nothing of Islam,” he said in a televised address.
President Issoufou, himself a Muslim, however disagreed with the publication of the Charlie Hebdo survivors’ issue saying that he shared the disgust and outrage of Muslims at the caricatures of their beloved prophet and that freedom of expression should be accountable of the need to respect religious beliefs. Charlie Hebdo has long attracted flak for lampooning Jews, Catholics and Muslims, but since the killings of its staff last week, the small Paris-based magazine has become a popular bastion of journalistic freedom of expression, including the controversial right to offend. Hundreds of thousands have identified themselves with the trending slogan “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie“) in solidarity with the slain journalists and protecting freedom of speech.
Issoufou was one of the participants last week of a march held in Paris against the atrocity, alongside many world politicians from opposing sides. Yesterday though, he said his participation in that march was to demonstrate his opposition to terrorism and not in support of the magazine itself.
After the riots, calm returned to the streets of Niamey by yesterday afternoon, but another planned march by the city’s Muslim community is feared to possibly re-ignite tensions. The civic authorities put a block on the march going ahead, but organisers have said they will defy the ruling and proceed anyway, possibly risking confrontation with local police and members of the Christian community.
Demonstrations were also reported in regional towns across Niger, including Maradi, 600 km (375 miles) east of Niamey, where two churches were burned. Another church and a residence of the foreign minister were burned in the eastern town of Goure.
The foreign minister of France, which once ruled Niger as an overseas colony, Laurent Fabius, roundly condemned the weekend violence in the country, stating “France expresses its solidarity with the authorities in Niger,” France currently maintains a battery of troops and defences in co-operation with Niger to battle against Islamist insurgencies in the neighbouring state of Mali as part of a regional counter-terrorism operation.
Four preachers of Islam who organised the meeting were arrested on Saturday as tensions began to flare, according to local police. The French government has warned its citizens living as expatriates in Niamey to exercise caution and avoid unnecessary travel.
Residents in Niger’s second largest city of Zinder said that a burned corpse was discovered in the remains of a Catholic church torched by rioters there, bringing the death toll to five from Friday’s clashes. Locals also claimed that wholesale attacks against Zinder’s Christians were instigated, with religious books, churches and minority-owned shops ransacked and set on fire. A French cultural centre was also set alight, and a police officer is among the dead, the rest are civilians, according to sources from the police.
In contrast with Niger, demonstrators in other Francophone west African nations, including Mali, Senegal and Mauritania, and in Algeria in North Africa, made peaceful protests against the Charlie Hebdo controversy after leaving their mosques after they finished Juma’a (Friday) prayers, Reuters reports.
Niger’s 17 million people are almost all Muslims, though its government remains secular. About 94% profess Islam, mostly of the Sunni branch. There are also communities professing Nigerien animism and Christianity.
Politicians in the British parliament have expressed concern over the rising number of incidents in London of violence involving so-called ‘danger dogs’. Since 2002, the number of ‘status dogs’ – used in fighting and as symbols of street machismo and status among some poorer youths in inner city areas – has risen sharply. The dogs, from both legally permitted breeds such as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier – informally known as Staffies, and illegal varieties like the American Pit Bull, are often mistreated to make them more violent and aggressive.
There have been reports of young men using trees in public parks as grips for dogs to work their jaw muscles on, causing considerable damage to the branches and trunks and additional expense to local councils. Criminals also employ status dogs as personal bodyguards setting them on anyone who displeases them. Fights involving dogs are a regular and clandestine occurrence, filmed on mobiles and uploaded on YouTube. Some are forced to wear weighted collars to strengthen their neck muscles and many such fighting dogs are left severely bloodied or even killed, while the owners can walk away with thousands of pounds cash in winnings.
Status dogs have also been involved in incidents such as the attack on five police officers by an ‘out-of-control’ pitbull in Forest Gate, Newham, London in March last year that left two needing surgery and hospital treatment. Two years earlier, teenager Oluwaseyi Ogunyemi, of the Stockwell Gardens estate in south London, was mauled by two dogs owned by members of a rival group of youths. Ogunyemi was also stabbed repeatedly in his chest and stomach and died from the attack.
A Staffordshire Bull Terrier – normally a friendly family dog – are also exploited by some owners who raise them as fighting dogs and use them to attack other youths and pets.
The RSPCA, one of the UK’s largest animal welfare charities, has reported a massive jump in reports of dogfights received by their staff. In figures published recently by the Evening Standard newspaper, incidences of dogfights for entertainment or betting soared from 24 in 2004 to 328 in 2010. Officers with the Metropolitan Police have also seized increasing numbers of status dogs – from 35 in 2002 to more than 1,200 now.
George Eustice, representing the Conservative party for the constituency of Camborne and Redruth in Cornwall, recently participated in a Select Committee that has criticised government proposals to control the sale and keeping of danger dogs as “woefully inadequate” and “belated”. Alongside a report issued by the committee on environmental affairs, Mr Eustice added, ” There has been a huge increase in attacks on guide dogs by these animals. We need to address the root causes of all these problems.“
Secretly held fights between dogs are organised in places like warehouses and council estates. Many fighting dogs sustain serious damage and permanent scarring. Dog in picture is posed by a model.
The Commons committee urged the Parliament to introduce a new law to make targeted assaults on guide dogs an ‘aggravated offence’. In addition, MPs suggested that informal breeders of such ‘status dogs’ should be regulated through a licencing system. Any breeder whose dogs produce more than two litters of puppies for sale in a year will need to obtain a special licence from their borough council.
Increasing concern over the popularity of more aggressive breeds has already prompted ministers to propose a compulsory microchipping scheme for all dogs owned in the U.K., which is expected to be fully implemented by 2015. Currently dog owners are not legally required to microchip or licence their pets, which has enabled owners of dangerous breeds to slip through the net. There are also plans to criminalise owners who allow their dogs to physically attack an individual in their home. According to Conservative MP Anne McIntosh, dogs have killed seven people in private residences since 2007, and the National Health Service spends over £3 million a year treating people injured by aggressive canines. In addition, eight assistance dogs and several thousand sheep and other livestock are also attacked, and 100,000 stray dogs are being picked up on British streets each year.
For two years, I was living in a rented terraced house in Forest Gate, east London. It was a tiny property built over an old graveyard and tucked away in the backstreets, and only a short stroll from the border with the neighbouring borough of Waltham Forest. It was a friendly enough area with a deep sense of community, but it was also very rough and ‘ghetto’. As is common with other inner city areas in London, there was a gang problem. While a local youth centre and an active grime music scene helped kept some teenagers busy, others remained loyal to their respective gangs or to the lifestyle of the streets, of the ” ‘hood”. There were tensions between the youths in our part of the ‘Gate’, some of whom I know personally, and gangs from the nearby council estates across the border in Cann Hall. These two sets of enemies hated each other’s guts…and probably still do. If anyone between 14-19 years age from my area was unfortunate enough to wander into Cann Hall gang territory, they would be approached, then asked “Blud, what ends you from?” (where do you come from?). Answering ‘Forest Gate’ would have had painful, if not fatal consequences.
The rivalry was intense to the point that gangsters from Cann Hall would drive stealthily into our area under cover of darkness to carry out shooting attacks or drive-bys on enemy youths. More than once, I would leave early to go work only to find police had sealed off our road and a polite copper would note down my name and address, then let me through. Gunshots would occasionally reverberate through the night air, as I lulled myself into some small false hope that it was a firework or a vehicle backfiring. A local acquaintance was shot at five times while seated in a car, with some bullets passing through his leg. Thankfully he survived, but others do not have luck on their side. Postcode gang wars have claimed many victims, and have spread fear to the point where youths will take detours to avoid passing certain postal zones or neighbourhoods on their way to school, college or work.
London, like any major conurbation anywhere in the world, has its problems with crime and violence. Poverty, lack of jobs and disaffection with life and society, and a breakdown in the traditional family structure has led people to seek solace in gangs, which become their ‘fam’ or family. According to a 2007 report by the Met Police, some 169 gangs operate within the greater London region. They are responsible for about a fifth of youth crime, and 25% have committed murder. Gangs also corner the market in street robberies, drugs, gun smuggling, credit card fraud and sexual crimes.
Over the past few years, more and more teenagers are being killed and injured on London streets and not all of them were necessarily gang members themselves. But like any crime, anyone can find themselves caught up.
– A student from Argentina, Steven Grisales, stabbed through the heart in Edmonton, north London after confronting youths who were throwing conkers (chestnut fruits) at him for a laugh.
– Daniel Graham, 18 years, stabbed 24 times in front of passengers on a bus by three members of the GMG (Guns, Murder and Girls) gang. The attack lasted only 45 seconds, but Daniel bled to death as people desperately tried to save him.
– Sylvester Akapalara, a future athletics champion, gunned down by the GMG gang in Peckham, south-east London
– Sofyen Belamouadden – barely still in school, he was set upon in the ticket hall of Victoria Underground station by more than 20 other schoolkids as horrified commuters looked on. They churned themselves into a frenzy, repeatedly stabbing, punching and kicking him as he lay dying on the floor.
– Thusha Kamaleswaran, just 5 years of age, she was playing and skipping about in her uncle’s convenience store in Stockwell, when three gang members chasing a rival fired a handgun into the shop entrance to kill him. Little Thusha was hit instead, and is now paralysed from a spinal injury and wheelchair-bound, thus ending her dream of becoming a dancer.
Ten years ago when I was attending school, such madness was virtually unknown. Twenty men chasing down one boy was unheard of. Fights were settled with strictly hand-on-hand combat, rather than arming up and using ‘shanks’ and ‘gats’ (knives and guns). After the playground scuffle finished, the belligerents would often shake hands and establish the peace. Children killing other children rarely happened, and murders were the preserve of older people. In 2008, only seven years after I left school, thirty young people lost their lives in gang-related violence. Communities and families are being affected or even ripped apart as youths clash, stab and shoot to show loyalty to their gangs, to settle scores and to gain street cred among their peers.
The police in London have their means to engage the problem, but many inner-city young people despise them. The ‘feds’ as they are referred to in the local slang, are hated with a passion. The police also do not help matters by being heavy-handed and have alienated young people through such policies as stop-and-searches, which predominantly target young Afro-Caribbean males. They have made attempts to ease the relationship though; through initiatives like school visits and helping former gangsters turn from a life of crime and fear.
Outside of New Scotland Yard, charities and support groups such as Kids’ Company are also helping in the battle. For them it entails encouraging those who otherwise might have been recruitment fodder for gangs to take a different direction in life, by encouraging and developing their talents and helping them in practical matters, like getting a job or applying for accommodation. While some gang members revel in guns and glory, others are there because to them, there is nothing else outside and the gang is the only family they have got. If there is a viable alternative for them, and if society puts aside its prejudice and accepts them, then youths can leave behind gangs and the devastation and hopelessness they bring.
Urban gang violence has many causes and many solutions. Governments and authority figures have mostly taken a one-size-fits-all ‘sticking plaster’ approach to gang disorder, which has not made a real impact. Punitive measures like house raids and frisking teenagers on the street to confiscate their £10 packets of cannabis leaf may tackle visible street crime, but have also alienated inner-city youths from mainstream society, their resentment pushing them still further into the all-too-attractive clutches of street gangs. If decision-makers try to work with young people and understand their worldviews, as my borough Newham’s Youth Parliament have done for many years, then young Londoners can feel part of a bigger thing, somewhere that they have a voice and a place. But solving our issue of gangs and youth crime is not just a mere A-to-B matter. We cannot expect quick-fix solutions and the problem will not completely go away. If we can deal with issues like poverty, deprivation, lack of youth facilities, racism etc etc. then gangs will not be so attractive any more. But in today’s recession-battered and morally broken Britain, things may get worse before they get better.
Thanks to Mohammed Miah for suggesting the subject for today’s article