A human rights group has criticised a landmark court decision banning a drill group from making music with violent lyrics, claiming the focus on the genre “highlights the danger that racial bias infects the criminal justice system”.
Recorder Ann Mulligan on Friday banned Yonas Girma, 21, Micah Bedeau, 19, Isaac Marshall, 18, Jordan Bedeau, 17, and Rhys Herbert, 17, from mentioning death or injury in songs or on social media after a hearing at Kingston Crown Court.
Drill music has been partly blamed for months of bloodshed across the capital, with the Metropolitan Police currently investigating at least 66 murders. The music often features masked or hooded groups, sometimes armed with weapons, talking about guns, drugs and stabbings.
The force’s Trident gang unit applied for the order after the group were this week sentenced to jail or detention - for terms of between 10 months and three-and-a-half years - for conspiracy to commit violent disorder.
The group was arrested last year while armed with four large machetes, baseball bats, masks, balaclavas and gloves in preparation for what police believe was an attack on a rival gang.
The 1011 drill group – based in Ladbroke Grove, west London - were also ordered to inform police of new videos they planned to upload and of any upcoming performances under a three-year criminal behavior order.
The order says that, on social media and in music videos and performances, the men must not encourage violence, mention named postcodes in a gang context, or make reference to the death of ‘Teewiz’, the nickname of 19-year-old Abdullahi Tarabi, who was fatally stabbed in west London.
They must also notify police within 24 hours of releasing new videos and give 48 hours’ warning of the date and location of any performance or recording and permit officers to attend. The men are banned from Notting Hill Carnival and must not possess balaclavas.
The Met has recently cracked down on drill groups, forcing YouTube to remove their videos. It has a database of more than 1,400 videos for intelligence and in the past two years has demanded the media giant remove up to 60 of them.
Music by the 1011 drill group has had millions of views on the site.
Human rights group Liberty, Index on Censorship and the Open Rights Group all expressed concerns about the criminal behavior order, calling it “censorship” and raised fears that the precedent-setting case may lead to police “overstepping the mark”.
Corey Stoughton, advocacy director at Liberty, told HuffPost UK: “Throughout history, art has been a means of political and emotional expression reflecting the reality of people’s lives, including violence on our streets.
“Censorship is a reaction of fear and misunderstanding, not a solution to crime or any other social problem. The contemporary focus on drill lyrics specifically highlights the danger that racial bias infects the criminal justice system.”
Stoughton said police should “focus on enforcing laws against actual violence, not clamping down on creative expression”.
Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsberg echoed those sentiments saying that banning a kind of music “is not the way to handle ideas or opinions that are distasteful or disturbing”.
This isn’t going to address the issues that lead to the creation of this kind of music, nor should we be creating a precedent in which certain forms of art – which include violent images or ideas – are banned. We need to tackle actual violence, not ideas and opinions.” Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsberg
Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group, said the men’s right to freedom of expression needed to be weighed against the threat they posed: “Once you get into direct threats, or you’re attempting to intimidate a particular individual, you’re beyond where free expression protections lie,” he added.
“The question here is how the police... who are not especially au fait with whichever scene... and the courts, attempt to tell the difference [between social commentary and threats of violence], and it is important that they do.
Killock said any form of censorship was “always concerning”, but tempered it by adding “it isn’t the case that free speech will never have boundaries”.
Killock urged the community to be “very vigilant that the police don’t start overstepping the mark”.
Detective Chief Superintendent Kevin Southworth, head of the Trident unit, dismissed claims that criminal behaviour orders amount to censorship, saying Friday’s court case was an “important” step in curbing gang violence.
“We believe this to be one of the first times, if not the first time, we have succeeded in gaining criminal behaviour orders that take such detailed and firm measures to restrict the actions of a gang who blatantly glorified violence through the music they created,” he said.
We’re not in the business of killing anyone’s fun, we’re not in the business of killing anyone’s artistic expression – we are in the business of stopping people being killed.” Detective Chief Superintendent Kevin Southworth
“When in this instance you see a particular genre of music being used specifically to goad, to incite, to provoke, to inflame, that can only lead to acts of very serious violence being committed, that’s when it becomes a matter for the police.”
DCS Southworth said the authorities were not trying to “ban anyone from making music”.
He added: “Nor are we demonising any one type of music – but the public rightly expect us to take action in a case such as this where a line has very clearly been crossed and the safety of individuals is put at risk.”
Veteran race campaigner Stafford Scott, who helped Amnesty International with a damning recent report into the Met’s gang database, said drill music was a “really difficult issue for our community”.
“Personally I am opposed to censorship but in the present climate it is difficult to be critical of actions that may lessen the, often negative, impact of an apparently growing group of adolescent males who too easily resort to excessive violence with often dire and fatal consequences,” he added.
“However the community should be being empowered to engage with these young people with a view to channelling their talents, musically many of them are quite talented, in more positive ways as opposed to criminalising them”.
Speaking about the spread of drill music in the UK, an academic told the BBC earlier this week that the genre provided an insight into the needs of deprived young people, rather than simply glorifying violence.
Criminologist Dr Anthony Gunter told the corporation: “If you see violence and pain and suffering all around you, because you live in a deprived neighbourhood, you’re going to make music that’s intense, violent and painful.”
If we want them to make beautiful music - nice, kind music - we’ve got to invest in these urban communities.” Criminologist Dr Anthony Gunter
The men hit with the ban were arrested on November 9 last year in Notting Hill, after an investigation into their music and social media accounts.
Police suspected they were planning to attack a rival group, 12 World, while armed with four large machetes, baseball bats, masks, balaclavas and gloves.
The defendants said they were on their way to make a music video and claimed the weapons were simply props, but the judge said the police’s actions in arresting them averted a “very serious violent incident” between two gangs.
The men admitted the lesser charge of conspiracy to commit violent disorder last Monday, having denied counts of conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm with intent.