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Wednesday, 28 August, 2002, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
No respect: The grim cycle of 'Yardie' violence
Seized guns
Police seize guns every day in the UK

A spate of black-on-black killings has raised fears of a renewed bout of Yardie gang warfare in the UK, in which even minor slights are a cause for vengeance.
Rudy King was murdered by a man called Marcus Charles. Charles, in turn, was murdered by Dean Roberts. Roberts, in his turn, was murdered by Ricky Sweeney.

Apart from the names, it sounds like the playing out of an endless blood feud in the mountains of Sicily. But all of these killings took place in London within the past five years.

Grim toll
Sixteen black-on-black murders Jan-July 02
Trident figures
The one piece of good news in this grim cycle is that Sweeney was arrested and convicted because of the remarkable courage shown by a former girlfriend. She agreed to testify against him in court - even though Sweeney made two attempts on her life, once in London and once in Jamaica.

Welcome to the world of black-on-black violence which the Metropolitan police is struggling to quell under the banner of Operation Trident.

Many of the statistics from Trident will be familiar. Eleven murders between January and June this year. Five more in July. But the trends are even more disturbing. Roberts was only 20 when he died; his killer, Sweeney, just 18.

Operation Trident poster
A new campaign urges an end to the violence
For the police, black communities are at a crossroads - at risk of seeing 11, 12 and 13-year-olds brutalised beyond redemption.

And though much of the blame can be traced to the turf wars between gangs competing for the lucrative market in crack cocaine, not just in London but Birmingham, Nottingham, Bristol, Manchester and elsewhere, much of the violence is to do with "respect", the grotesque elevation of minor slights into a cause for vengeance, whatever the cost.

Turf wars

In the past, the generic term "Yardie" has been used to denote the heavy Jamaican influence on this phenomenon. But the latest assessment is that three out of every five victims is British-born.

And this fact above all should prompt an analysis of black-on black crime which looks behind the lurid headlines and asks whether mistakes in law enforcement and government policy-making have contributed to the mayhem on the streets.

A Yardie in Jamaica displays his gun
The name Yardie refers to criminals from the back yards of Kingston, Jamaica
Operation Trident began two years ago. It was much trumpeted by the Met as unique: one squad combining both intelligence-gathering and an operational arm. Its link with the black community via an independent advisory group is also innovative.

But it might be asked why it took Scotland Yard until 2000 to come up with a suitably holistic approach to a problem which had been identified as early as 1986.

Who now recalls Operation Lucy, the first attempt to investigate black-on-black crime, which was disbanded in 1989 against the advice of many of the detectives who worked on it?

Or the Crack Intelligence Co-Coordinating Unit, set up with the blessing of the home secretary in 1989 but also dissolved a few years later - unwisely in the view of many who had been tracking the damage inflicted by the newly-emerging drug, crack cocaine?

Or Operation Dalehouse, focused on Brixton, which, by the time it was wound up in 1992, had made 274 arrests for serious crimes and seized hard drugs with a street value of 1m? Or the first joint police-customs unit, painstakingly put together in the late 1980s but also short-lived?

Police mistakes

The plain truth is that the history of law enforcement's fight against crack cocaine and its associated violence is littered with mistakes and shifts in priority dictated by politics rather than operational necessities.

If you add to this the pressure of trying to maintain good community relations while targeting criminals who are exclusively black, you have a devastating cocktail.

Sadly, for too long, "Yardie" violence was low on the policy agenda because it was a black crime phenomenon and rarely prompted angry editorials in the Daily Mail.

Now the gun culture it spawned is everyone's problem and there's no more room for error.

See also:

13 Aug 02 | England
25 Mar 02 | Entertainment
17 May 02 | England
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