The lady in the article below is from Glasgow, Scotland, and is one of a few people on whom the light is shining in the UK that the problem with gangs and gun murders is not so much the gun (although I doubt she'll be advocating loosening the restrictions on gun ownership in the UK anytime soon) but the character of the individual behind it. THAT is very untypical in Britain.
For anybody who's counting, this is my 3,000 post.
Guns, Gangs, Grief And God
After her son was shot dead in the street, Patsy McKie vowed to end the violence. She tells Susan Flockhart of her campaign
PEOPLE will think she’s crazy. But if Patsy McKie could live the last five years of her life again, she would – even if it meant reliving the night her 20-year-old son was shot dead. That summer evening in 1999, McKie was at home in Hulme, south Manchester. Dorrie, youngest of her six children, went out with a friend to play basketball. It was the last time she saw him. Shortly after he left, Dorrie was chased by a group of hooded youths and died at the roadside with three bullets lodged in his body. McKie didn’t know it then, but the week her son died turned out to be among the most violent in Manchester’s history. “The Sunday before,” she recalls, “a young man had been killed in nearby Moss Side. I remember going through pain for his mother, feeling devastated – not knowing that on Tuesday my son would be dead. Another one died on Friday.”
The violence was nothing new. Guns had been a growing menace on the city’s streets and for years, young men had been dying at the hands of drugs gangs. “But nobody had done anything about it and no mother had the strength or power to rise up and do anything.” Nor, to begin with, did McKie, who stayed away from the inquest and the trial (which resulted in two youths being imprisoned for possession of the gun that shot her son). “I was in enough pain already, without having to hear how he was shot.”
But McKie, a 56-year-old social worker and grandmother-of-seven, began to think about those young men for whom guns were a spurious badge of respect. She knew that each gang comprised a mere handful of youngsters who lived short, fast lives. “How on earth,” she wondered, “do we come to a place where we let 10 young men rule our city and put us in fear for our lives?” It was time to act. McKie got together with a group of concerned women to form Mothers Against Violence, which aimed to support victims’ families and put a stop to the shootings.
They staged a street-march and took their message to Tony Blair in Downing Street. More recently, McKie flew to America with fellow MAV member, Sheila Eccleston. Their destination was Boston – a city whose serious drugs gang-related gun problem had been radically curtailed during the 1990s by a concerted multi-agency action programme. Every night, a team of street workers patrols notorious estates such as Dorchester and Roxbury, keeping tabs on the gangsters and, crucially, trying to prevent junior gang members from being sucked too deep into the sub-culture.
During the visit, which is the subject of a forthcoming BBC2 documentary, the women met American mothers who’d lost sons to drugs violence and talked to the charismatic Rev Eugene Rivers, a one-time gang member turned champion of black inner city youth, who believes the problem stems from lack of support in these young men’s homes. “Ultimately,” he says, “what this is all about is the absence of fathers.”
In Manchester, as in Boston, senior gang members act as surrogate father figures, recruiting youngsters through the carrot and stick of cash and fear. Like Boston, it’s a culture characterised by terror, and respect for the power of the man (or boy) who carries the gun. The one thing these youngsters don’t respect, believes McKie, is life – including their own: “I’ll tell you something,” she says in a soft, quiet voice that still bears a trace of her West Indian origins, “they don’t think much of themselves when they can kill somebody.” By putting their own lives in the line of vengeful fire, they are, she points out, effectively destroying themselves.
Like Rivers, McKie believes lack of paternal involvement is crucial, and quotes from the Bible about the hearts of the fathers being turned to the sons. (Deeply religious, she peppers almost every sentence with references to God.) She’s met fatherless youths selling drugs in order to keep their families alive, while others, who feel unloved by their fathers, are drawn into the surrogate family of gangs.
Today, MAV works with The Manchester Multi Agency Gang Strategy (MAGS). Based on the successful Boston programme, MAGS brings together probation, education and social services agencies in an attempt to target offending. Young gang members are confronted on their own territory and offered help to change their lifestyles. “The purpose of gang membership,” says one MAGS member, “is terror. You have to be able to sell terror, and part of that is that other people know you are able to have 10 or 15 men, anywhere in the city, ready to kill.”
How can Glasgow – recently branded Britain’s “murder capital” – prevent its pervasive knife culture from mutating into gun crime? Can MAV offer an insight into where the guns are coming from? McKie replies that she has no idea. “For me, guns aren’t the problem. My focus isn’t on the guns, but the hands behind the guns.” And shortly, MAV will go into secondary schools to talk to students, in the hope of changing mindsets. “Because a man becomes what he thinks. The thinking is first, before the hand takes the gun. We have to re-train our children and re-educate them in the mind.”
And McKie wants to go further, targeting parents raising those youngsters who might, one day, pick up a loaded weapon. It’s all about instilling values – and parents can be dangerous role models. McKie, who’s become more observant since her son’s death, has been keeping a close eye on the grandson who lives in her home. “I realise,” she says, “that he’s copying everything he sees, including the way we cope with anger. When we shout or lash out, his eyes take everything in. Another thing we teach our children is to live by feelings, to ‘go with the way you feel’. That’s wrong. You have to look at things and decide – who am I going to hurt?” Consumer culture, too, has spawned a generation that values things over people and views expensive, designer gear as a passport to respect. McKie meets young teenagers who began selling drugs in order to afford the right kind of trainers.
Her compassion for those terrorising her neighbourhood may seem remarkable given the magnitude of her grief, which still envelops her from time to time, but she has forgiven Dorrie’s killers. By way of explanation, she dredges up memories from before she met and married the father of her three younger children. “As a single mother, I had to struggle to do whatever I had to do. If I hadn’t enough money for food or clothes, I’d shoplift. I’ve done things I’m not proud of. So I can sympathise, empathise, compassionise, whatever it is. Because I’ve been there.”
Likewise, experience of the brutal impact of murder means she is there for mothers who’ve lost sons, and impelled to do whatever she can to prevent others going through the same hell. But that’s a tough call. In just four years, Manchester has suffered 25 deaths and 200 injuries through gang violence. Yet despite this brutal tally, McKie truly believes the situation can be reversed if people learn to think differently. Actually, she wants the whole education system to become more sensitive to children’s individual needs and talents. “At the moment, we’re packing them in boxes, thinking they all have to do the same and get the As, Bs and Cs, and if they don’t we throw them on the scrapheap.” As for harsher penalties, McKie argues: “We’ve tried all that. I really believe what is lacking in our society is love.” Was she loved as a child? She hesitates. “Well … no.” She hints briefly at a difficult start to life, as one of 13 children growing up in the West Indies. But she’s not one for self-pity, reflecting that “all those things made me the person I am today”. Far from challenging her faith, Dorrie’s death has made her more devout. “I could either sit down and let grief take me to the grave, or let the pain mount me up with wings and eagles, and that’s what I’ve decided.” She prays frequently for the strength to carry on her work for MAV, which she’s convinced is God’s purpose for Patsy McKie. And that’s what she means about being prepared to go through it all again. “I wouldn’t be talking to you today if my son hadn’t been killed. I’ve met so many people and done so many things and affected so many people’s lives …” Words, she believes, are “the most powerful thing in the universe”. And the word, in the gospel according to Patsy McKie, is love. Sons And Guns, BBC2, Wednesday, 11.20pm 07 December 2003
congrats on 3k foot. interesting article.