Behind Glasgow’s Gangs


Behind Glasgow’s Gangs

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Written by: CARF


The details of Imran’s fatal stabbing are now sub judice as several youths have been arrested. But his family are now considering action against the hospital after a post-mortem revealed that he died of septicaemia, not of his stab wounds. The police too, are the subject of complaints that they did not carry out forensic analysis of Imran’s jacket until after he died, nine days after the stabbing.

Sidelining racism

No-one is claiming that this was a racist murder. On the other hand, it is impossible to understand the circumstances that led to Imran Khan’s death without looking at how the Asian youth experience has been shaped by racism.

There has been a substantial Asian presence in Glasgow since the 1950s and 1960s when many Indians and Pakistanis, attracted by the Corporation’s recruitment drive, came to staff the buses and health service. Today they are among the most deprived communities of the city, suffering from high levels of unemployment and poverty.

The extent of racial harassment and violence the Asian community has faced over the years has seldom been acknowledged. A survey by the Scottish Ethnic Minorities Research Unit in 1987 found that over half of Indians and Pakistanis had suffered racist attacks on their property and 82 per cent of housewives had been subject to racist abuse. Racial abuse is still an everyday occurrence for many Asians, but this merits little serious attention from either the media, the police or other statutory authorities. An attack on 53-year-old Kishwar Noor near her home in south Glasgow, two weeks after Imran Khan’s death, was only reported in the Scotsman as a hook on which to hang a story about the ‘race trouble concerns’ expected at an anti-racist rally the following day. Noor had been racially abused by three whites, menaced with a knife and pulled to the ground. Her son Mohammed Shahid saw the attack as ‘a symptom of the worsening pattern of abuse suffered by Asian people in this city. We are told the city does not have a race problem. That is not true we suffer daily from abuse, mostly verbal’. His comments reveal the gulf between the experience of the Asian community and the ‘official line’ that Scotland, unlike England, is a happy, harmonious multi-cultural society. The result is that racism is sidelined and overlooked.

An issue for schools

Nowhere has this ostrich mentality been so apparent as at the Shawlands Academy, Scotland’s largest multi-racial secondary school, where Imran and the youths who have been charged with his murder were all pupils. The school has been the focus of concern for anti-racists before, and a feeling persists that, for many years, Shawlands has failed to deal satisfactorily with allegations of racism, including an incident in 1990 when a teacher was accused of racially abusing a pupil. In 1992, four whites were injured in a fight outside the school gates and suddenly, racial violence hit the headlines but it was ‘racist’ Asian gangs that were demonised. Shawlands did nothing to counter this interpretation. And after the BNP attempted to exploit the affair by distributing leaflets outside the school, it was left to the Scottish Anti-Racist Teachers’ Educational Network to call for a proper debate on racism in Scotland’s schools, rather than carry on the pretence of multi-racial harmony. The call was not heeded. ‘The response to Imran’s death has been no better’, claims Andrew Johnson, an anti-racist educationalist from Strathclyde University, who accuses Shawlands of complacency and of failure to tackle the real issues.

Community responses

Johnson believes that Imran’s death was an offshoot of the racialised gang violence that has been a reality in Glasgow for some years. While ‘gangs’ exist in any working class community, black or white, young Asians in particular claim that they have been forced to group together to defend themselves against marauding white racists who arrive from Paisley Road West, tooled up and looking for a fight. They have been especially critical of the police response, claiming that a high police presence in the Asian areas of Shawlands and Pollockshields at weekends results in harassment rather than protection. In turn, there was widespread concern among both black and white Glaswegians in the summer of 1996 that the violent activities of one Asian gang went beyond legitimate self-defence. What was once hype has now become real and many parents, black and white, are unhappy about their children travelling to and from school alone.

The response of the ‘community leaders’ has also come in for strong criticism from Asian youth, who feel it is time to speak out. Many of these ‘community leaders’ are embroiled in the current infighting on Glasgow City Council, and the result is that, while spending cuts decimate community facilities, Asian politicians jockey for position and the needs of the community have taken a back seat. There is just one community centre in Glasgow, recently opened after six years of discussion and procrastination. There are no real facilities for young people and few initiatives to find areas of common interest between white and Asian youth.

While institutions seem happy to leave the Asian community to rot in this racist hell, young people grow ever more angry. Glasgow, black and white, deserves better.

Related links

Black Community Development Project

Chhokar Family Justice Campaign


The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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