|Reluctant Gangsters? Street Gangs and the Press in Interwar Glasgow|
|During the 1920s and 1930s, Glasgow acquired an unwelcome reputation as Britain’s “gang city” – a Scottish Chicago. Press coverage of the city’s gangs was extensive and highly sensationalised. In the spring of 1930, and again in the summer of 1936, the city witnessed full-blown “moral panics,” with widespread demands for the police and courts to wage “war” on the gangs. In feature articles and editorials in both local and (British) national newspapers, gang members were frequently demonized, as morally and/or psychologically deficient, even sub-human. Many of the city’s gangs were overtly sectarian, but their religious affiliations were routinely derided by commentators in the press who took their cue from the city’s police and magistrates as well as local church leaders.
A very different picture emerged from the pages of the Scottish weekly press. Weekly papers devoted considerable space to Glasgow’s gang conflicts, but – lacking the immediacy of the daily press – they were forced to seek new angles on events that had already been widely reported. In papers such as the People’s Journal, gang cases were re-cast as human interest stories centred on interviews with victims of street violence as well as relatives of both victims and perpetrators. In some instances, journalists were able to obtain interviews with prominent members of sectarian gangs based in Glasgow’s East End. These stories of gangland from the “inside” help us to reconnect both the practices and the meanings of violence to the contexts of family and community life. Some accounts from the 1930s bear striking resemblance to one of the key themes in recent criminological work on gangs in Britain: the difficulties faced by young people seeking to leave gangs. As one of John Pitts’ informants put it: “the problem is, once you get in you can’t get out” (2008: 97).|