The Yardie has been invented by white journalists

Drifting, mid-morning, through the hurly-burly of Brixton recently, I was disturbed by high-pitched voices spouting rhetoric about guns. The statue of Henry Tate, the sugar baron of the Caribbean plantation, dominated the space outside the Ritzy cinema, where a meeting was taking place. Usually the habitat of assorted vagrants and alcoholics, this time there was a handful of individuals being harangued on the question of guns in the black community. I sidled by, hoping not to be recognised by either the tiny audience or the soapbox orators. I did not wish to be associated with the pointless exercise; nor did thousands of Brixtonians, it would seem, for, in the midst of what is an unusual set of circumstances (the daily execution of young black men by young black men) the organisers were unable to gather the support of the black community.

I could not quite see what they were getting at. It seemed quite infantile to call a public meeting to demand that the gunmen lay down their arms. Not even the mighty Trevor Phillips, who was present, has that power or authority in the black community.

I was close enough to hear what was being said. I was surprised, nay, irritated, by the xenophobia of the platform. It couldn't be British-born blacks who are the gunmen and, if it is, then they are being influenced by foreigners, the Jamaican Yardies. That was the general drift. But a simple inquiry of senior officers at the Brixton nick would reveal that the perpetrators are largely home-grown. The killers of Stephen Lawrence, the killers of Michael Menson and those who are arrested and charged with some of the recent murders are part of a deep malaise in the inner city. They can be found in every major city from Liverpool to Southampton.

In some cases I know their parents well, and their brothers and sisters, too. Some of them are extending a family tradition of crime and outlawry. They live by any means necessary, refusing the jobs that thousands of asylum-seekers are happy to do for low wages. Their revolt expresses itself at first in vicious internal violence - black on black. Their crimes range widely: high-class burglary, large-scale fraud, car theft, mugging for jewellery, large-scale robbery, drugs, the lot.

They dress in the very latest designer wear; they drive top-of-the-range vehicles; champagne is the favourite drink. Their lifestyle is not afforded by a nine-to-five job. The gun is the earner. A heist of £50,000 is chicken feed to them. These gunmen and those close to them pursue this road, from Johannesburg to New York, from Port of Spain to Los Angeles. It is an international phenomenon, a drifting, inner-city, lumpen proletariat. To approach this problem as a moral question is asinine. The use of pistols against each other is a passing thing of no great social significance. It is temporary.

Let me paint a scenario. A couple of guys attend a dance somewhere in east London, let's say. Beenie Man, the popular singer, has drawn hundreds to the event. The guys are on show, and so are the dolls.

There are about 40 guns in that place. A simple argument with the bouncer, and he is dead. Within a day or two the killer is dead. Then it spreads to friends and friends of friends. Simple. Years ago it was the blade, the machete. We are witnessing a change in technology. That is all. These people are aged 16-25. Each summer adds to the numbers. The end of term means the beginning of the hunt.

No meeting of 20 or so attention-seekers in Brixton will make one iota of difference. The inner city has to be transformed into a hive of creative activity, drawing the youth into a different social arena. Nothing else will do.

And by the way, "Yardie" comes from the word "yard", which, in the Jamaican dialect, means "home". "Yardie" is a recent arrival from the islands.

The young gunmen are not Yardies by any means. It is a figment of white journalists' imagination.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 02 August 1999 issue of the New Statesman, America says: never again!