In what the newspapers are calling an “unprecedented move”, the Metropolitan Police have applied for a Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO) to be imposed in a case involving teenagers and young adult defendants that will prohibit them from making “drill” music. This application follows the position recently taken by the Metropolitan Police and reported in the media that drill music is responsible for an escalation in serious youth violence.
What is Drill Music?
Drill music is rap music with trap beats originating in Chicago, USA and exported to south London via YouTube.
YouTube’s deletion of drill video content
In support of its position, the Met police cites the fact that YouTube has already deleted at least 30 drill music videos following Met police complaints about them. However, while it may assist the Met police’s public image to appear to be using new, hard-line, tactics in an effort to tackle the very real problem of youth violence, in reality, the use of CBOs to prohibit the making of drill music will do nothing to address the problem.
What is a CBO and what does this mean for drill music?
The CBO is the successor to the now defunct ASBO. It is a civil order that can be made by a criminal court prohibiting certain activities or requiring that certain activities are carried out. They can be imposed on anyone convicted of any offence and there is no requirement for there to be any connection between the criminal behaviour that led to the conviction and the prohibitions or positive obligations contained in the CBO. In this particular context, this means that an individual could come before the court for an offence unrelated to any kind of youth violence and then still be made subject to a CBO preventing them from making drill music, provided the criteria for the CBO are met.
In order for a CBO to be made, the court must be satisfied that someone has engaged in behaviour that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to any person and must consider that making the order will help in preventing the offender from engaging in such behaviour. CBOs can last between 1 and 3 years for people under 18 years old. For adults, the minimum duration of a CBO is 2 years and can last indefinitely. Breaching a CBO has serious consequences. It is a criminal offence to breach a CBO which means that young people who have an order preventing them from making drill music who then go on to do so will be dragged before the criminal courts where they can ultimately be sentenced to a term of imprisonment.
The Metropolitan Police says that drill music “glamorises” violence. This is possibly true in some form, but what the Met Police cannot say is that drill music is the cause of violence. Blaming drill music for violence is like blaming rock groups for drug use. Lots of rock music glamorises drug taking but no one would seriously argue that listening to rock music makes you take drug and yet rock music is not being put on trial in the way drill music currently is.
Serious youth violence has been around for a lot longer than drill music. However, drill music has given the mainstream an insight into a world that they previously knew little or nothing about. It does not, however, follow that it created that world. Drill music is, therefore, more accurately seen as a reflection of the world the people that make it inhabit, rather than the medium that created that world.
While a CBO has not been used to prohibit the production of drill music before, these kind of interventions by the police are not new. “Gang” injunctions have been used for years by the Met to prevent alleged gang members from making various types of music. I dealt with a case several years ago involving a 17-year-old boy who was prevented from making “road” rap, before drill music had even hit the UK. Before drill, it was road rap that was the problem. Before that, it was grime and garage and the use of form 696 to stifle those genres of music and the artists from flourishing.
There is undoubtedly a racial element to the drive to prevent drill music from being made. The police have a long history of over-policing music of black origin so in this sense, this is nothing new and these tactics have not stemmed serious violence in any way.
What no one seems willing to admit is that there is a strong correlation between poverty and crime and that serious youth violence is precipitated by certain social conditions such as austerity and structural racism and classism. These are issues that play out as school exclusions and educational discrimination, over criminalisation, housing issues and lack of employment opportunities.
This has been said again and again by people who work closely with young people and yet the people in positions of power choose to ignore this and favour increased surveillance and increased restrictions on liberty and civil rights.
Often music and sport are the only means for marginalised young people to escape their impoverishment. If you prevent young people who are involved in serious violence from making music, are they going to turn around and suddenly become contributing members of society? Or they going to become further marginalised, more trapped in their situation and feel more alienated from and disillusioned with society?
Do we point the finger at the young people, sometimes just children, for expressing the violence of their reality through music or do we hold the adults who should know better to account for creating the environment in certain neighbourhoods that traumatises these young people into creating this nihilistic music that reflects that environment.
The practical implications are that these measures will waste police time and will lead to injustice to the individuals targeted. These tactics also in my view have ramifications for our democracy.
The proposal is to include a term in the CBO that the offenders cannot make drill music that “references violence”. This will mean that police will possibly target prominent drill musicians and look for reasons to arrest them in order to get them before the criminal courts. They will then apply for a CBO prohibiting them from making drill music once they are convicted of any offence, no matter how minor.
In addition to this, we know that while only 27% of those responsible for serious youth violence are black, 78% of people on the police gang matrix are black. So, inevitably what this will lead to is the increased surveillance and continued over-policing of young black people.
In this case, the defendants did make drill music with violent content. That said, I have not seen any evidence to suggest that the music was in any way involved with the offences the defendants were convicted of. The police claimed the videos were “clearly and only designed to incite violence and provoke each other”. This raises two issues.
Firstly, if anything said or done in a music video constituted the incitement of an offence, the artists could be prosecuted for that. As far as I am aware, no one has ever been prosecuted in this way for lyrics or a music video. Certainly not from the drill genre. In my view, the use of CBOs in this way are an attempt at circumventing the criminal law and casting the net of criminalisation far wider.
Secondly, in this age of social media young people have plenty of ways to provoke each other, whether it be through snapchat, twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Simply banning a form of music will do nothing to prevent such provocations from occurring because the media through which it can be done are so ubiquitous.
The Met’s drive to abolish drill music will also mean the police trawling through YouTube videos to look for references to violence in drill music. This is both unworkable and absurd -– is it really a constrictive use of a police’s officer’s time (and the taxpayer’s money) to spend hours trawling through teenagers’ music videos? Also, can we really effectively criminalise a genre of music based on the fact that it references violence? Some of the most celebrated books, art, literature, films and plays have violent content. Shakespeare’s Macbeth – which is taught in schools and shown in theatres all over the globe – is an extremely violent play. The film director Lars von Trier premiered a film at Cannes Film festival this year that was so violent that half the audience walked out. No one is linking these works of art with the violence that is committed in our society, still less is anyone calling for the law to be used to prevent such works of art from being created.
Ultimately, in my view, this case boils down to a fundamental issue of freedom of speech and expression. In a free, democratic and open society, everyone has a right to express themselves in any way they see fit about whatever is on their mind, provided they do not incite others to commit crimes. This right means that in a democratic society we also have to be tolerant of the way people express themselves, even if you disapprove of what they say or the way they say it. In the words of Voltaire, I disagree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.