Birmingham children ‘as young as eight’ swept up in drugs and violence Pair dedicated to saving young lives through sport
YOUNG people have told how they are living in constant fear of being shot or stabbed in their own neighbourhood.
Gangs waging ‘postcode’ turf wars, together with a craze for posting footage of fights, threats and bravado on social media, have been blamed for rising levels of violence.
Youth leaders have also revealed that the age of young people being swept up in street crime has dropped to as young as eight.
Children so young they are still in primary school are being used as drug-runners.
Community worker Mohammed Zafran, speaking on the eighth anniversary of his brother-in-law’s violent death, said more needs to be done to provide activities for young people in and around Birmingham.
Two 19-year-olds who play football at the youth worker’s Unite & Uplift academy, based in Bordesley Green, also spoke frankly about the climate of fear in the neighbourhood.
One said: “It’s crazy. Every time you step outside your house, you worry you could get shot or stabbed on your own doorstep. It’s something you worry about all the time.
“Someone could come and shoot you, someone could come and stab you for no reason – they don’t have to know you.”
The community liaison officer, known as ‘Zaf ’, has steered thousands of young people to more positive pursuits through his life-changing academy, which was borne out of grief at his brother-in-law’s death and is based at South and City College’s Bordesley Green campus. The current rate of violence in the West Midlands – ranked as the second highest in the country last year – is among the worst he has ever seen, with young people being swept up in the mayhem.
Zaf, whose brother-in-law Safraz Khan was fatally stabbed in the head with a screwdriver on June 27, 2008, offers a stark illustration of the toll that such violence is taking on other families.
“I have a partnership with another group who run a cricket team in Aston,” he says. “They told me recently that one of the players got a phone call to say his brother had been stabbed. Within an hour another chap got a phone call to say his brother had been shot.
“In the next six days, it was someone being shot or stabbed. It’s affecting different communities, different areas – and some of it is the postcode wars arising again.”
Last February, figures showed West Midlands Police had received 119 reports of children carrying – and using – knives, knuckle dusters and razors, during the previous 18 months.
“There is a problem at a local school with children aged eight or nine selling drugs,” Zaf says. “The dealers are using children because they can’t be touched by the police.
“It’s a common thing, the kids are vulnerable and the dealers give them a fiver and use them as runners. It’s not so much shocking, because nothing shocks me anymore, but it does hurt to have this happening in your own community.”
More than 22,000 people have taken part in activities at the acade- my since it launched five years ago, including one footballer arrested more than 180 times, and who had anger management issues.
But even when tempers fray, there is no such thing as a lost cause.
Zaf spent the eighth anniversary of his brother-in-law’s death at his grave before going to an evening football session at his youth project, where around 30 young people largely from Somalian and Jamaican backgrounds played football.
The guiding light believes young people engaged in ‘badness’ simply lack outlets for their energy, and that more youth centres and projects are needed.
“I think there’s frustration,” Zaf continues. “There’s a shortage of youth centres and youth clubs, there is a lack of activities.
“There are some people some brilliant work, but the people in power need to do more in terms of youth engagement, and asking the youngsters what the problems are.” doing ABID Khan, of the Birmingham Youth Sports Academy, is working alongside Zaf in reaching out to young people through sport, including mentoring and football sessions. “No-one’s beyond help, there’s always a way,” Mr Khan says. “It’s about engaging with young people and finding out the problems. This is just the starting point, because the problems go a lot deeper. “We just need to save as many as we can, and if we can recruit them to work on our side of the fence, it makes our lives a lot easier.” Mr Khan, himself a boxer and footballer, is using grassroots sport in Small Heath and Saltley as a way to steer young people to brighter futures.
He echoes Zaf ’s assessment of the corrosive pressures on young people, with social media being one of the chief culprits.
“Young people want to get likes on social media and it’s a massive problem,” Mr Khan explains.
“It’s postcode wars, and then they want to get the footage to share on social media platforms to show what a good job they’ve done.
“It’s about peer pressure and wanting to be part of the crowd and part of the crew.
“Unfortunately, this is the way it is. To be one of the boys you have to have done something, and you have to have evidence of it. It’s a mash-up of everything really, it’s the culture, the society, the gadgets, the social media influence, there’s so much going on.”
Zaf ’s academy, formerly known as All 4 Youth and Community, has used football as a touchstone which can lead to young people taking up academic and vocational pursuits.
“Here, the young people come for the football, and they learn discipline,” says Mr Khan. “They are good players and they become role models for the generations coming through.
“If we can utilise social media in the correct manner and push videos, we can have an impact.
“Even if we save one life or change one kid it’s an achievement.”
> Inner city gangs have a grip over parts of Birmingham
> Abid Khan, left, and Mohammed ‘Zaf ’ Zafran