TV presenter and Radio 1 DJ Reggie Yates explores the culture of fear, anger and violence which drives young people into the dangerous world of teenage gangs, in this one-hour documentary made by Mentorn Media.
Reggie sets off on his journey convinced that a person’s surroundings do not define who they are or how well they do in life. At the beginning of the film he explains his views: “I’ve long believed that everybody has choices in life, and that no-one is forced to become a criminal just because they grow up poor. I grew up on a council estate in a house that for a long period of time was living off benefits and I believe that your surroundings don’t define who you are, I think it’s you as an individual, how determined you are, how much work you are willing to put in, that determines how well you do.”
But over the course of three months he spends time with a number of young people who give him an insight into the world of street gangs, and he is forced to confront his own beliefs. His journey gives him a close-up view of gang life in Britain, as he tries to answer the key question: Where does responsibility lie for the alarming number of young people drawn into gangs? Is it down to individuals and the choices they make, or is it a result of their environment – factors they can’t control?
Meeting 22-year-old Aaron, who was a member of one of the most feared teen gangs in South London, Reggie begins to understand that status and fast money are a key part of the attraction of gang life. Aaron has served time in prison, nine months of a two year sentence for ABH, and he is now out on licence. But does he have the will power to avoid going back to his previous gang life of drugs and turf wars? Has he got the mental strength to turn his life around and make a new start?
Another person trying to change their life is Talisa, a 22-year-old ex-gang member who used to be a lookout for drug dealers. Talisa is lucky to be alive after being stabbed fourteen times, but she also knows that the temptation of money and peer-group pressure may force her back into the world of street gangs.
Police estimate that there are now more than 170 street gangs in London alone. During the summer of 2011 when violence broke out during the London riots, teenage gangs were blamed. But this is not just a London issue – two days later trouble flared in several other major cities.
To learn about gang problems outside the capital Reggie travels to a rehabilitation scheme in St Helens, Merseyside. There he meets Darren, once a member of the Gooch Gang – one of the most ruthless gangs in Manchester, known for drug dealing, weapons and fighting. Darren lived in 42 different care homes from the age of five and was bullied at school. For him, joining a gang was a way of earning respect and getting protection. It made him feel part of a family.
Back in London, Reggie meets another group which focuses on helping gang members break out of the lifestyle, and one which acts as an adviser to government and schools. Target Against Gangs (TAG) is led by Sheldon Thomas, a former gang member himself, who now has the ear of David Cameron. TAG uses its strong Christian beliefs to try to convince vulnerable teenagers that there is another way.
On the final day of filming Reggie reflects on what he has learned from his journey: “I came into this process believing that the person is in charge of their own destiny and the individual decides just how far they can go, but since meeting [street gang members] I think environment has a huge say on how far someone can go and I think more than anything I’ve got a new-found respect for how fortunate I have been. What I’ve seen on the streets these last few months has changed the way I feel.”
Reggie Yates: Teen Gangs is part of the Criminal Britain Season on BBC Three.
Reggie Yates: Teen Gangs is a Mentorn Media Production and was commissioned for BBC Three by Fiona Campbell, commissioning editor for independents at BBC News and Current Affairs.
Executive Producer is Steve Anderson, Producer/Director is Mark Gregory and Assistant Producer and DV Director is Paul Wells.
Notes to Editors
Criminal Britain is a stimulating and hard-hitting season of programmes where BBC Three looks at how crime affects the lives of young people today and brings to life the human stories behind the startling stats, from the perspectives of both the perpetrators and the victims.
The estimated figure of 170 gangs in London is sourced from a Report by Scotland Yard, Violent Crime Directorate, 2007.
For further information please contact Lou Plank at Plank PR firstname.lastname@example.org 020 8995 3936