Britain: Operation Trident and the black community
Operation Trident has investigated murders, convicted killers and taken weapons, cash and drugs off London's streets. The Trident squad tackles "black on black" gun crime and has secured life sentences for scores of Jamaican "Yardies" or British-born gangsters, encouraging terrified witnesses to come forward and protecting them.
What Scotland Yard, the black community, the Government and wider society have all failed to do, however, is prevent the growth of a small but lawless sub-group of youths for whom guns, crack cocaine, violence, violent rap lyrics, and Yardie-style gangster culture, have become a way of life.
The absence of fathers or any positive male role models in many cases have meant that young street thugs — frequently excluded from school — have aped the desperado lifestyles of the older generation.
Trident was launched by the Metropolitan Police in 1998 in response to pressure from London's black leaders for action against gunmen terrorising their community. The Trident squad is now more than 300-strong.
Because it has taken older players off the streets, the young criminals no longer need to fear that adult gunmen will curb their activities.
This may be why for the first time Trident has found itself charging 15-year-olds with murder and why, in the past two weeks two 15-year-old boys have been shot dead in their homes.
Shots were fired not in a darkened nightclub, or from a car driving by, but in the victims' houses. Police have already warned that a youngster with a gun — real or replica — will one day be shot by officers.
The two killings are part of the sequence of five murders in the past three weeks in south London — four shootings and a stabbing — which may turn out to be a largely unconnected cluster of attacks with differing motives. However, they are all born out of a youth environment in some inner London boroughs which has led police to warn that guns and knives are "fashion accessories" and a means of settling disputes between gangs, or over drugs, turf or simply perceived "disrespect". The same view has been expressed in Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Nottingham and other areas.
Trident insiders have frequently counselled against trying to explain the "disorganised crime" they face in terms of traditional notions of disciplined gang organisations.
There are, undoubtedly, dozens of extremely dangerous youth gangs — "crews"— in London and elsewhere. Before Christmas some schools were closed in the Southwark and Lewisham areas because of violence between the Peckham Boys and the Ghetto Boys. A Home Office study of the market in illegal guns recently noted that, whatever the source of a dispute, "gang or crew structures escalate and perpetuate violence, which may transcend individual incidents and become generalised." Two gangs in a nightclub can be a recipe for lethal violence.
However, the violence, volatility and immaturity of many of the hoodlums creates chaos: gang structures fall apart and re-form regularly. Drugs, particularly crack cocaine, pour high octane fuel on the flames.
Drugs lie at the heart of many shooting incidents, according to Scotland Yard. Those selling crack or cocaine carry guns to protect themselves against other criminals who want to steal it from them at gunpoint. Turf wars erupt over drugs markets and control of supplies in local areas.
However, the culture of "disrespect", and the willingness to initiate a "beef" at the slightest provocation, are also a central feature of the violence. To glance at someone in a nightclub can be to invite an attack. The Home Office study, Gun Crime: the market in and use of illegal firearms, noted: "Nightclubs and other public social venues are significant here. Violence can escalate in shared social spaces where rivals meet. An individual's status may be publicly challenged which necessitates retaliation."
Guns can be cheap. The Home Office research pointed out that an imitation firearm could be bought for £20 and a shotgun for £50.
A military-quality handgun will go for around £1,000. An automatic weapon sells for between £800 and £4,000. However, the reality, according to Trident officers, is complex. Real, "made for purpose" guns and ammunition are difficult for the young hoodlums to obtain.
Scotland Yard officers say they are more frequently seen in the hands of the older, more mobile and "serious" criminals — the roughly 10 per cent of Trident targets who try to sell cocaine around Britain or hire out their violence to other gangs in the regions.
The other 90 per cent are much more "local". Most Trident shootings happen in the borough where the gunman and often the victim live. If they travel, it is to nightclub. There have been 13 Trident "black on black" murders since April, a level for 2006/07 which is slightly up on 2005/06. Total fatal and non-fatal Trident incidents have fallen from 209 to 179. This may be a result of Scotland Yard's success in seizing 909 firearms since April, a major increase on the haul of 117 guns in the previous year.
However, there is a deeply disturbing set of statistics underlying this apparent success. In 2003 the proportion of victims of Trident murders or shootings who were under 20 was 16 per cent. In 2005, it was 27 per cent and, so far this year, it is 32 per cent.
Not only is the younger generation perpetrating violence, it is killing its own age group in increasing numbers.
'Shot Billy had a gun too'
Gangs targeted in gun crime review
Young children being used as 'gun-couriers'
Gangs force children of eight to run guns and carry drugs
How Trident hones in on gun crime
Ganging up on guns
Reid: The Ali G of the Cabinet
The Killing Zones