Friday, November 12, 2010

iTODAY: 'Youth bravado, not organised gang activity, behind recent violence'

From iTODAY:'Youth bravado, not organised gang activity, behind recent violence'

Zulkifli Bin Othman | Nov 12, 2010 6:00

SINGAPORE - As six more male suspects were arrested yesterday in connection with the two cases of armed rioting at Bukit Panjang - making it 12 in total - concerns over gangs in Singapore are rising.

Following the incident on Monday and the Downtown East murder on Oct 30, there have been calls for stronger action and more police patrols.

And Criminal Investigation Department director Ng Boon Gay said yesterday the department is "working closely with the local MPs and grassroots leaders to address residents' concerns and will provide progressive updates on our investigations".

When Parliament sits on Nov 22, these attacks on youth will be one of the questions tabled.

Government Parliamentary Committee chairman (Law and Home Affairs) Alvin Yeo wants to know if there has been a rise in gang-related activities here and the steps being taken to curb them.

Where once the fights in nightlife areas such as Boat Quay had sparked heavier police presence, that the recent clashes were in the heartlands such as Pasir Ris and Bukit Panjang is a concern, some grassroots leaders told MediaCorp.

But they also said such violence has not posed a problem in their estates.

Admiralty grassroots activist Raunaq Begum, 44, said cases more typically seen in the heartlands are bicycle thefts or "fights which usually involve school children, but this can be controlled".

Another grassroots leader from Tampines, who declined to be named, said they do keep a close watch on youth congregating in the neighbourhood.

"But this doesn't mean we're going to report to the police on every group of youngsters seen hanging out at the void decks, because that's not the way to go," he added.

For some parents, the key question is whether the presence of youth gangs is growing within schools.

To this, some youth counsellors who see problem youth referred to them by schools or the police, said that such activities still tend to take place outside the schools' premises.

Centre manager Nur Faezah Safaruan of AIN Society, a welfare organisation works with youth at risk and disadvantaged families, said: "Gang involvement usually starts innocently and happens out of school hours when students hang out in the evening."

Ms Nur Faezah added: "There are also instances where a gang member is in school and has issues with another student. He may call his gang members to settle the issue outside the school with the student."

But gang activities "are not visible" within schools, nor do youth being counselled reveal if they are in gangs, Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of Youth Services at the Singapore Children's Society.


A false sense of bravado, rather than the work of organised gangs, is behind the recent violence, according to two former gang members and a retired police officer.

Mr Wind Chan, 29, who joined a gang operating in Little India at the age of 12 and is now a church worker helping troubled youth, said that gangs in the past abided by certain codes of conduct and were controlled by a headman. Not so anymore.

Teen gangsters these days are just spoiling for a fight, said Pastor Don Wong from the New Charis Mission, which reaches out to troubled youth.

"Media influence and the games they are playing create a violent mentality in the youth," said the former gang member.

While teens may pick fights for frivolous reasons, the level of violence can escalate.

Ex-police officer Lionel de Souza said: "He wants to show that he's not a 'softie' ... So if there's a fight, he'll try to be more vicious than the others. And it's like a domino effect - when one becomes vicious, the others will hysterically join in."

So far, five youth have been charged for murder in the Downtown East attack. The youngest suspect is 16.

Before youth at the fringes cross the line, everyone, including the community, and especially schools, must play a part, said Mr de Souza.

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