5 things you need to know about the Gangs Matrix
Posted on 03 Feb 2022
What is the gangs matrix?
The Metropolitan Police’s Gangs Violence Matrix was set up in the wake of the 2011 London riots, despite evidence showing that gangs were not a significant factor in the riots.
The Matrix is a watchlist of people who the police designate “gang nominals” based on vague criteria which may include who your family or friends are, or what music videos you share on social media.
The Matrix gives individuals on it an automated ‘score’ to measure how much risk they pose, and a range of actions can be taken against them as a result of this score, such as exclusion from education and housing.
Who is on the matrix?
There are roughly 2,000 people on the Matrix at any given time.
In 2019, a Freedom of Information request by Wired magazine found that children as young as 13 were on the Matrix.
People are put on the Matrix based on various information, including ‘intelligence’ from police forces or other sources.
People could be added simply because they have been victims of crime or have contact with others living in the same area who the police suspect are gang members.
Young people of colour are stereotyped as being more likely than White young people to be involved in violence and other criminal activities, including ‘gang’ involvement, but this doesn’t match up to the reality.
For example, 86.5% of those on the Matrix are Black, Asian or other minority ethnic, and 79% are Black – even though just 27 per cent of those convicted of offences related to serious youth violence are Black.
The majority of people on the Matrix (65%) are considered by the police to be of “low risk”.
In 2018 the Information Commissioner’s Office found that the data on the Matrix “cannot be said to be accurate”, and issued an enforcement notice after finding that the Matrix breached data protection laws.
What does it mean for people who are on it?
Being on the Matrix can have very serious consequences.
People on the Matrix may be subject to a wide range of ‘enforcement actions’, including benefits sanctions, eviction, and exclusion from education and housing.
They may also be subject to increased stop-and-search and police surveillance.
Information on the Matrix is also shared with other bodies, such as immigration enforcement bodies, meaning someone’s presence on the Matrix can be a trigger for deportation.
Being on the Matrix also carries the stigma of being a ‘gang nominal,’ and can impact how those on it are treated by practitioners and service providers like social workers and hospital staff.
How do you know if you’re on it?
In general, the Metropolitan Police does not inform a person if they are on the Matrix.
There’s no way for someone to appeal against their inclusion, or ask for the information held about them to be reviewed.
If people are not told that they are on the Matrix, it is unlikely that anyone will be able challenge their inclusion on it.
Awate Suleiman, one of the claimants bringing this case, has been subjected to over-policing since he was a child and feared he may have been on the Matrix.
He had been trying since 2019 to find out if he was on the Matrix – and in December 2021, on the threat of legal action, the Met finally confirmed that he is not on the Matrix.
However, he is still challenging it’s the lawfulness of the Matrix.
What do we think should happen to the Matrix?
We all want to feel safe in our communities, but the Gangs Matrix isn’t about keeping us safe – it’s about keeping tabs on and controlling people, with communities of colour and Black people worst affected.
The Gangs Matrix is fuelled heavily by racist stereotypes – based on who people are friends with, who their family members are, where they live, and where they go.
Secret databases that risk young Black men being excluded from society based on racist assumptions are not a solution to serious violence, they are part of the problem.
The Matrix damages communities through division and alienation. We should be demanding better, evidence-based solutions that tackle underlying causes.
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