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AK47 ‘targeted killing’ is not a gun-crime

Is a homicide involving the use of an AK47 assault rifle or a handgun a gun-crime? Not when it is a “targeted killing” or “an armed robbery that went wrong”. These descriptions of what gun-crime is not come courtesy of two serving senior policemen: Jeremy Alford, Assistant Chief Constable of Hertfordshire and Nottinghamshire Chief Superintendent, Richard Johnson, respectively.

Mr Alford’s description comes in “a message of reassurance” following the fatal shooting of David King, a 32-year-old doorman, in Hoddesdon on October 03, 2003. The targeted killing of Mr King results in two other men receiving gunshot wounds (1).

Richard Johnson is describing here the homicidal shooting of Marian Bates, a 64-year-old jeweller, after two teenagers attempted to rob her store in Arnold, Nottingham, on September 30, 2003 (The Sun 01/10/03).

Alford and Johnson’s descriptions prove too “disturbing” for The Telegraph, a pro- police newspaper. On October 5, 2003, The Telegraph publishes “Boot in mouth”, an editorial which condemns in particular the “complacency of Jeremy Alford”.

More disturbing than the complacency those descriptions reveal is the subtext which hides behind police failure to describe the homicides of Mrs Bates and Mr King as gun-crimes.

That subtext is as simply as it is idiotic: police define gun-crime as a black-only crime involving cocaine trafficking and sale of crack. Alford’s “Boot in mouth” is the result of his effort to keep gun-crime thus defined regardless of the consequence for police-black relations and crime fighting.

For simplicity sake, let us leave aside police-black relations and instead focus on the definition of the label gun-crime. As a label, gun-crime is meaningless in law. Therefore, a central question, which this article addresses, is “what purpose does the label gun-crime serve in the investigation of offences involving firearms?”

Police pick four random components to define gun-crime. Race and nationality are the principal component of gun-crime definition. Black people, Jamaicans yardie gangsters in particular, are responsible for “the new era of gun violence” in Britain (The Observer 21/09/03). After international terrorism, yardie-style gangsters represent the greatest threat to policing warns detective chief superintendent John Coles (The Observer 14/06/03).

In June 2002, Bob Ainsworth, Home Office Minister with responsibility for drug, echoes Coles’ warning at a Birmingham “cocaine summit” which the government called to discuss “gun and crack culture” (The Guardian 9/06/02, 25/06/02).

Crack dealing is the second component of gun-crime. Ainsworth claims there is a close link between cocaine trafficking and dealing crack (The Telegraph 25/06/02). Jamaica provides that link. Sixty-five per cent of all drugs in the UK had come from Jamaica (BBC News 4/01/02). Jamaicans are at the forefront of crack dealing in Britain.

Gun-crime’s third component is its association with crack dealers’ violence. John Coles claims, “the crack trade is closely linked to gun crime” (The Guardian 14/06/03). Ainsworth confirms the linkage when he says, “the levels of violence associated with crack cocaine are very disturbing and they are very clearly linked to the supply of that drug” (The Guardian 25/06/02).

The final component of gun-crime is its location, where it takes place. Britain’s black population is concentrated in the inner cities. Certain communities in these cities form the “badlands” where Jamaican gangsters sell crack and fight turf wars (The Sun 4/10/03).

Brixton, London, is one such community. On June 23, 2002, The Observer claims, “The centre of Brixton is a 24-hour crack supermarket.” This chimes with Ainsworth’s comment that “The black community does have a problem” (The Guardian 25/06/02).

How does police definition of gun-crime impact on the investigation of crimes involving the use of firearms?

Police define gun-crime as a “homogeneous problem”. All gun-crime is related to the crack trade. Crack is the drug of choice for black people, especially Jamaican cocaine traffickers and crack dealers. Therefore all gun-crime is black related. A consequence of such logic is Operation Trident, the Metropolitan police anti-black crime unit, which John Coles heads.

Operation Trident poses a number of problems when it comes to the investigation of crimes involving firearms. The first problem relates to its chief operating principle: race and nationality. It is a “dedicated anti black on black crime unit” (The Guardian 25/06/02). Blacks and Jamaicans are its only target.

The killers of Marian Bates and David King are white, proof enough that black people do not come close to holding the monopoly on gun related homicides.

Trident’s second problem centres on police failure to acknowledge openly the source of crack primary ingredient: cocaine. The manufacture of crack is a local cottage industry. Very little crack is smuggled into Britain. Crack is a pure form of cocaine. Its raw material, cocaine, is smuggled into the UK by various routes.

According to the government, cocaine arrives in Britain overwhelmingly from South American through Spain, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands (HM Custom and Excise). An estimated “seven per cent of all cocaine in Britain comes via the Caribbean” (The Telegraph 25/06/02). This contradicts the BBC News claim “that 65% of all drugs in the UK had come from Jamaica” (BBC News 4/01/02).

Trident’s third problem relates to the racial profile of cocaine main traffickers and dealers. Home Office research finds that with the exception of crack, white people aged between 16- 29 are the primary users of class A drugs such as cocaine and heroine (HORS 224, 2001:50). Similarly, white traffickers are responsible for the majority of cocaine entering the country. Three examples will support the last point.

In June 2002, Hilton John Van Staden started a twelve-year jailed sentence. Staden, a South African national, was head of global white drug gang, which conspired to smuggle 600kg of cocaine from Latin America to the UK (The Guardian 14/06/02).

“Cocaine queen”, Julie Patterson, is another trafficker currently doing time. The 46-year-old white yachtswoman received a twenty-four-year jail sentence, in October 2000, for her part in a trans-Atlantic operation to smuggle 400kg of cocaine into Britain (BBC News 17/12/02).

Finally, Margaret Loughran, a 52-year-old white granny, was sentenced to ten-years in prison in December 2002 for attempting to smuggle cocaine from Jamaica to Britain (The Voice 2/12/02).

The age, gender and racial profile of Staden, Patterson and Loughran emphasize the idiocy of defining cocaine traffickers as primarily black “single mothers” (The Telegraph 4/01/02).

Such an approach results in targeting a disproportionate amount of police resource, which Trident does, on an insignificant minority of offenders. In so doing, police sabotage any real chance of disrupting the crack trade at source. In particular, preventing white traffickers from bringing cocaine into Britain would result in a corresponding cessation of crack manufacture and sale. Such a solution is axiomatic: no cocaine trafficking, no crack dealing. Consequently, there would be no gun-crime.

That is if police definition of gun-crime as a “homogeneous problem” is credible.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on October 4, 2003, the deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester, Alan Green, rejects the belief that gun crime is a “homogeneous problem”. He says, “there are different types of people involved in gun-crime. I think if we approach [gun-crime] as just one problem then we’re doom to failure”. In other words, the belief that firearms offences are exclusively related to black crack traders’ warfare hamstrings any investigation of homicides involving firearms where the decease is white.

Take the so-called “targeted killing” of David King. Although his assailants’ partly concealed their identity, witnesses are able to confirm their racial profile as white. Yet neither the police nor press highlight this very useful piece of information in their report.

The downside of not doing so is someone could have seen the gunmen before they disguised themselves. Such a witness might not connect them with the Mr King’s killers because white people do not fit the assumed racial profile of gun-crime offenders, which is black. As a result, the homicide is harder to solve.

Gun-crime primary purpose is as a label it establishes in the public mind the stereotype of crimes involving firearms as exclusively black crimes. It demonises black people without contributing to homicide clear up rate. Nor does it impact on the crack trade. Quite the contrary, by focusing a disproportionate amount of police resource on criminalizing blacks, white criminals are free to traffic and sell cocaine to blacks involved in the manufacture and sale of crack. This virtuous circle might provide Operation Trident with its raison d’être, but it does not deal with the real cause of the “curse of crack cocaine”: white cocaine traffickers and racist policing.

Winston Smith © Blaqfair


HORS 224
Home Office Research Study 224
Drug misuse declared in 2000: results from the British Crime Survey
Malcolm Ramsay, Paul Baker, Chris Goulden, Clare Sharp and Arun Sondhi