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Towards a new model on mediation with your street groups

Towards a new model on mediation with your street groups

The TRANSGANG Project(1) aims to respond to the persistence of youth street groups (the so-called ‘gangs’) and the social discourses that often represent them as “problematic” and suggest other ways to fight the violence

Gang prevention strategies, community mediation, and the 5 years of research in the three TRANSGANG regions are the focus of this eBook. We explore the 5 years the organisation has spent in the twelve cities of the three TRANSGANG regions: Southern Europe (Barcelona, Madrid, Marseille, Milan), North Africa (Rabat-Salé, Algiers, Djendel, Tunis) and The Americas (Medellin, San Salvador, Santiago de Cuba, Chicago). Presenting some reflections and recommendations regarding public policies derived from our fieldwork as alternatives to policies based on punitive and a “mano dura” standpoint.

Policies travel as much as gangs and imaginaries, but our perspective is focused on experiences of care, mutuality and hybrid mediation models, verifying that other policies for addressing the problem on a local and a global scale are possible.

The models of conflict mediation found in places like Chicago or San Salvador reflect the high levels of violence and homicide that characterize local experiences of gang conflict. Despite such broad-ranging differences, models for performing conflict mediations between gangs and/or youth street groups circulate globally, appearing in academic literature and policy documents concerning geographically, economically, and culturally distinct contexts as practical tools with universal applicability. We draw some broad conclusions and recommendations from across the TRANSGANG dataset, focusing on what can be learned in general from these diverse experiences of gang and youth street group mediation.

Moving to ‘Mano Dura’

Over the past decade, there has been a trend in several of the TRANSGANG areas for gang policy to become more legalistic and authoritarian.

In the European cities where State or municipal supported programs of legalization were happening a decade ago, there has been shifts toward heavier policing and criminalization as a strategy to deal with youth street groups. This effectively led to the re-criminalization of Latin and Arab groups. The return or emergence of the “mano dura” in these cities is mirrored in the experience of El Salvador over the past decade, where State-backed mediation and ceasefires have been replaced with the increasing militarization of the police and the mass incarceration of “gang members” including detained deny having any association with gangs.

While there may well be less violence on the streets of El Salvador, a large underclass of predominantly young men is now subjected to the daily violence of the El Salvadorian prison system. In effect, mano dura does not dispel violence but rather displaces it. An additional problem is that they tend to result in scorched earth in terms of the relationships between local communities and State agencies. Today, however, there are far fewer social workers and street educators in these communities; the work that would be necessary for any future attempts of a mediation-based approach is simply not being done.

In addition, existing relationships between youth street groups/gangs and State/municipal agencies have been severed by increased State repression. Another negative consequence of mano dura policies is that they undermine the possibility of engaging in nonviolent(mediation/legalization-based) approaches to gangs and youth street groups in the future.

Sustainable mediation?

This shift in gang policy exemplifies much broader trends in social policy witnessed over the past decades. In the context of neoliberalism policies, State support for welfare and social programmes tends to be subject at the austerity model as a consequence of the global financial crisis. We discovered the weakness of models of conflict mediation based municipal and State support. When political support and financing are taken away, the programmes cease to exist.

What we find in the experiences of several of the cities is that when State or municipal financing has been taken away from legalization or mediation programmes, mano dura (or policing as a method of managing youth street groups in general) returns as a default governmental strategy. The gang policy histories in El Salvador, Milano, Barcelona and Madrid demonstrate that, in an era when financing and political support are often time-limited and project-based, policymakers should be aware of how to ensure the long-term sustainability of community programmes, youth street groups and gang mediation.

Read the complete article here.

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