Violence-prevention group points to role played by females in gang conflicts
Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter
ONE SOCIAL group that works closely with persons in tough inner-city communities has revealed that many of the vicious gang conflicts have been fuelled by women.
In a submission, last week, to a joint select committee of Parliament examining the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act, Dr Elizabeth Ward, chairman of the Violence Prevention Alliance (VPA) said that women contribute in a significant way to gang violence. "They are the ones who call the shots - they do not fire the shots," she clarified.
Tarik Weeks, a PhD candidate who is a member of the alliance, said his research has shown that in communities where gangs were embedded, women as heads of households exercise some kind of authority over their sons and their involvement in crimes.
He argued that women have also been able to exercise influence in terms of stability and control.
"Women sometimes join in particular efforts designed to upset another community and put two communities at conflict," he said.
Dr Ward wants the committee to take a second look at provisions in the bill, dubbed the anti-gang legislation, to guard against criminalising persons who are seen as protectors or providing safety and security for gangs within their communities.
Making it clear that she was in no way pronouncing on the issue of "right or wrong", the VPA chairman said the activities of gangs were sanctioned by many layers of the community, which makes it a complex issue.
She reasoned that the legislation was likely to facilitate the picking of the lowest hanging fruit, which translates to the "weakest people in the system" and not the leadership of gangs.
In the meantime, Deputy Commissioner of Police Glenmore Hinds agreed that there were instances where women exercise strong influence in gang-on-gang violence.
Commenting on women's involvement in gangs, Deputy Commissioner of Police Hinds said he had no empirical data to support the view that women, at times, call the shots.
He also dismissed any suggestion that women figured significantly in terms of gang leadership, but noted that he had known of a few instances where women had become active members of gangs.
"I do know though that women provide significant support to the gangs - they provide succour, they wash the bloody clothes, they will hide the guns if possible, there are a range of things that (women do) which cause the gangs to function," he said.
Hinds reasoned that mothers often tend to live in denial and provide support for their sons despite evidence that they were involved in gang activities.
"It's a kind of maternal instinct that wants to protect their sons. Mothers tend to defend and protect their sons with all their might," Hinds added.
He pointed to the issue of dependence, noting that some mothers in inner-city communities were unemployed and it is their sons who are involved in criminal activities who finance the needs of the household.
"It is a kind of moral decay where people have a difficulty to differentiate between right and wrong."
The senior cop also argued that many communities involved in gang conflicts were quick to demonise their adversaries, but at the same time embrace their own gangs. Said Hinds: "In some communities, my criminals are good criminals and your criminals are bad."
The deputy commissioner said gangs survived mainly as a result of their support base at both the community and household levels.