Campaigners warn against punitive approach and point to austerity, poverty and racism as culprits of gang violence
Campaigners and artists have sharply criticised the police crackdown on drill music, warning this “punitive” approach will ultimately fail to tackle the root causes of youth violence.
Instead of banning drill artists from performing certain songs, campaigners said youth violence should be treated as a public health crisis, and the focus should be on tackling austerity, deprivation, and isolation.
Last month, drill rappers Skengdo and AM received a suspended prison sentence for breaching a gang injunction, which prevented them from performing their song Attempted 1.0. According to the Index on Censorship this was the first time in British history that a prison sentence was issued for performing a song.
Stafford Scott, a civil rights campaigner, said: “The real reason the police, the judiciary, and lawmakers can abuse their position and target these artists in this manner is because they don’t have a clue how to stop the violence.”
He called for more research on why young people feel compelled to carry weapons and are now more inclined to use them.
“They’re focused on tackling the symptoms and not the root causes of black youth disaffection, which is caused by marginalisation, isolation, deprivation and lack of aspiration, borne out of a lack of opportunity, inspiration and hope,” Scott added.
Craig Pinkney, a criminologist at University College Birmingham, said he was initially heartened to see the head of Scotland Yard show public support for the idea that knife crime should be treated as a public health crisis, but that the recent bans against drill artists show these words have yet to translate into meaningful action.
“Violence is a public health issue. Violence is a disease, it’s contagious, it spreads. When you think you’re going to remove people that are infected, the disease remains because you haven’t dealt with the source,” Pinkney said.
In a study he published last year, Pinkney looked into the links between drill music and gang violence. The study concluded that gang rivalry is an important narrative in some drill music and could act as a catalyst to causing others harm, but it’s not something that should be looked at in isolation.
“We’re not having a conversation about austerity, poverty and institutional racism. We’re just saying drill music is the reason why young people are violent and continuing that narrative is quite dangerous,” Pinkney said.
Artists in the industry say the crackdown on drill music is a smokescreen for how little is being done on the ground to reduce youth violence.
“This is the shittiest policing of all time. They’ve given AM and Skengdo prison sentences as if they’re the Al-Capone of our time. They’re making YouTube videos, come on,” said the rapper Drillminister.
“They’re looking for excuses right now. The government can’t explain the rise in knife crime, they don’t have answers for the public. They can’t say ‘we’ve messed up the schooling systems, we’ve messed up communities, we’ve cut police numbers, we’ve affected family households, and wage incomes’,” he added.
To highlight what he describes as the hypocrisy in recent criticism of drill music, Drillminister used quotes from MPs to create a track, called Political Drilling. A quote featured in a song came from Labour MP Jess Phillips, who had said: “The day that it becomes you are hurting us more than helping us, I won’t knife you in the back – I’ll knife you in the front.”
TK, the co-founder of Finesse Foreva, the independent record label that manages Skengdo & AM, believes drill music’s positives are all too often ignored.
“It’s actually sad. We’re not rich. We’re trying to help and take the person who has potential and put them in more positive surroundings and teach them how to be professional. They’re going to offices, they’re meeting people, and they realise they don’t have to have their guard up all the time,” TK said. “If you don’t have the opportunity to go into music, all you’re doing is being stuck in the block.”
He said rappers are just being honest about their material reality. “Taking down the video of drill rappers talking about what’s really going on in London is basically sweeping it underneath the rugs.”
Gwenton Sloley, a former gang member who does community outreach through the organisation Crying Son, said that for some “the only safe space they’re seeing in their community is the music studio.”
Instead of tarring drill music under the same brush, Sloley said more should be done to support drill rappers engaging with isolated young people.
The crackdown on drill music doesn’t mean the music genre is going away anytime soon, Drillminister said. “If anything it has unified the culture, we realise the power of our voice. They’re trying to silence us, but we’ll speak our truth.”
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