BOUNDING down Forth Street on the southside of Glasgow, 15-year-old Atif is waving his arms around as he talks about his experience of gang fighting.Source: The Herald
“I remember when we were playing football at the Holyrood pitches and there was this big riot, there were about 50 people,” he says, barely gasping for air in between sentences. “It was crazy, we had just come out of football, and hammers and knives were getting thrown everywhere.”
Brawling mostly happens on “special occasions”, he says, such as bonfire night, or Eid, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, or at the Glasgow multicultural festival, Mela.
“Fighting is fun,” he says with a huge grin. You get pumped up, you get really into it ... but you regret it after.”
His friend nods in agreement but claims Shields – the Pollokshields neighbourhood in Glasgow which has a large Asian population – isn’t that “scary”, he says.
Walking ahead of the pair are Amir and Humza.
It is an unseasonably warm October evening and Albert Drive, the heart of Pollokshields, is littered with people popping in and out of the shops and cars pumping out rap music.
The lads are all on the cusp of turning 16. They are all in fourth year at different Glasgow schools, and they are all young Asian Muslims living in Glasgow’s ethnically diverse southside.
Some come from families with criminal connections, some are from one-parent families. One is a carer for his disabled mother. These are young men on the brink of losing themselves to gang culture. Tonight, they are with their youth workers – men who are attempting to make sure these teenagers don’t take the wrong path as so many of their peers are now doing.
At the moment, all they seem to care about is playing football, going to the gym and smoking cannabis. But they risk falling into serious criminality.
Atif’s uncle, who is 19, recently spent time in Polmont Young Offenders Institute. Atif says he was charged once but the case was dropped. He refuses to say what the charge was, however.
His friend, Rashid, cites the eternal woe of the teenager for the attraction to petty crime: “There’s just not enough to do here.”
Atif agrees: “Everyone smokes hash because there’s nothing to do.”
The teenagers belong to the Youth Community Support Agency (YCSA). Dozens of teens throughout the community attend every day. There are around 20 workers and volunteers for the Pollokshields charity, which is currently facing worrying funding cuts. Youth workers say the mid to late-teens are a tightrope walk for young Asian men – and they can easily fall into gang culture.
Billy Halliday, 49, a young person’s support worker who has been with YCSA for almost two years, is sitting in the “quiet room” of the striking A-listed building, which was formerly a Masonic lodge and a base for the Seamen’s Mission.
A swirling stone dragon pops out of the wall above the toilets and erotic nude pictures of mermaids are painted over wall tiles.
Given that the clientele of the organisation is predominantly Muslim, the mermaid’s modesty is covered by giant posters.
“We have to recognise different cultures and respect them,” he says.
Halliday calls the young people “role models” and says the work the YCSA does in the area is vital.
Many young people, he says “aren’t actually in gangs ... but they adopt the gang of the area as a badge”.
He says: “Young people who are doing well at school and who have got real good prospects see themselves as a Shielder [Pollokshields gang] or a Gabba [Govanhill gang] because they stay in that area.
“But as they get older, if no-one’s tackling that identity and if there’s no activities for them to do, then the older people will draw them into the activities.
“We get them to see that they can make their own decisions and take responsibility for their own actions.”
The overwhelming feeling from the teenagers is that they are perceived negatively. “I was coming back from my mate’s and two police officers pulled me over to ask me what I was doing and then searched me,” says Humza.
“Everyone thinks Pollokshields is a bad area,” adds Rashid, who is from the area but now lives in nearby Govanhill. “But it’s just a stereotype.
“People see a group of people and they think, ‘it’s obviously a gang’ but it’s just a bunch of friends.”
The YCSA is clearly a lifeline for them. “We like coming here because it gives us opportunities to get a job,” says Rashid.
“I was charged once. If I didn’t come here it would just keep happening,” Atif adds. “It keeps us off the streets.”