The impact of gang culture was spelled out to the police by a group of youngsters from across the West Midlands.
The group of around 30 young people took part in a special meeting with West Midlands Police and the Police Authority to tell them about the impact gangs have on their neighbourhoods, communities and schools.
It came as West Midlands Police prepares to launch a gangs task force which will see police officers dedicated to tackling gang violence, as well as an independent group of community members who will work with the police and other agencies to work out the best way to tackle gangs.
Many of the youngsters at the meeting called for police officers to change the way they act to groups of young people on the street who are not part of a gang.
One teenager from Sparkbrook said: “We get interrogated by the police because we look like others who are being bad. We don’t get any support and that’s what we need.”
Another said: “It’s unacceptable to define a gang as a group of people who hang out together on the street. I’ve got friends who hang out and they’re not doing anything wrong.”
Youngsters also said they were concerned about gangs in schools. Wolverhampton City Youth Council said gangs in schools were often overlooked despite being intimidating.
They also said gangs in the community affected everyone, young and old, and called for more opportunities for young people to keep them out of trouble.
Det Chief Insp Darren Miles from West Midlands Police said gang violence had become “a real issue” following the deaths of Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare who were the innocent victims of a gang feud in 2003.
“It highlighted the damage and impact gangs can have on the West Midlands,” he said.
“There are 40 recognised gangs in the West Midlands involving around 400 to 500 people. This is not a policing issue alone, we need to work with communities and that’s what we’re doing.”
Bishop Derek Webley, chair of the Police Authority, praised the youngsters who took part.
He said: “These young people genuinely want to work to make our communities safer and better places to live and it is something worth celebrating.”