Should Young People Who Want to Express Themselves Through Drill Music Be Treated as Terror Suspects?

Anthony Downes, Second Year Criminology Student. – December 2018

Young people and music have always been associated with one another. One of the latest genres of music is ‘drill’ which Thapar (2018) describes as a dark aggressive strain of underground rap. As with many other musical subcultures before it, drill has fallen victim to a ‘moral panic’ (Cohen, 1972). The moral panic being that drill music has led to the high rise of youth violence in London. There has been a common association between youth violence, young (BME) people and drill music within London. This has become a concern of the state, who want to enforce their power on these young people to eradicate their way of expressing themselves through music.

Young people have been a major cause of concern and anxiety for adults for many centuries, as documented by Pearson (1983). Pearson argues that generations have found something in ‘the young people of today’ that make them feel uneasy and that they are not as well behaved as they were when they were young. In the late nineteenth century the concept of adolescence became apparent which was described as the period of life between childhood and adulthood. Hall (1905, cited in Muncie, 2015:67) states that “adolescence is pre-eminently the criminal age” and by this he means that young people going through this phase of life will undoubtedly be involved in some form of crime, however small.

During the 1970’s, attention was focused on a new street crime by the youth in inner cities around Britain and it became known as mugging. This type of crime had been around for years under various guises. It soon became a moral panic and as Hall et al (2013) suggests, as the panic developed it became apparent that it was almost exclusively a black youth problem, and this made them a folk devil. The state used this to their advantage, as they blamed the crisis of hegemony on youth, crime and race.

London has forever been synonymous with violence and the first six months of 2018 were no different, as there were 80 homicides reported (Shaw, 2018). If you are to believe the media who enjoy demonising youth culture, then you would believe that all these homicides are linked to drill music (see for example, The Times, 2018: The Spectator, 2018 and The Sun, 2018). The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, has singled out drill music videos for fuelling the surge of violence in London. She asked YouTube to take down any music videos that glamorise violence, to which they responded by removing thirty videos (BBC, 2018).

Drill music within the United Kingdom found its roots in the disadvantaged areas of inner-city London. It is mainly created by young black men who have affiliations with gangs from their relevant neighbourhoods. Drill is a sub-genre of rap and the content portrays the lives of the people who perform it. Bempah (2018) argues that drill musicians are just telling a story. There is no denying the fact that lyrics in drill music refer to drugs, knives and guns and many of the youths involved are portrayed wearing masks and hoodies. Is this any different from the violent language used by Members of Parliament which have recently been used in a track called ‘political drilling’ by a drill MC. Daly (2018) suggest that the MC was given the violent quotes by Channel 4. One quote by former chancellor George Osborne said, “I will not rest until she’s chopped up in bags in my freezer” made in reference to Theresa May. Therefore, is it right to blame drill music for the violence that is happening in London or should the politicians of the country be held responsible?

Drill music is the current musical moral panic, however have we not seen this in previous decades, the Sex Pistols in the seventies turning youths into drug frenzied yobs. The heavy metal of the eighties turning young people into Satan worshipers and the ‘gangsta’ rap pf the nineties turning gangs of youths into gangsters and killing each other. After the initial shock and moral panic of these music genres, they are now all forms of mainstream music that we listen to on a daily basis and as with grime before it before it, surely it will not be long before drill is also in the mainstream and being played on the radio.

The state seems to have taken a very hard-line approach on the policing of drill music and the artists involved which disproportionately affects young (BME) people. Recently drill collective 1011 received a three-year criminal behaviour order (CBO) which requires them to inform the police of any new music videos within 24 hours and give 48 hours’ notice of any live performances (Guardian, 2018). This is nothing new and the policing of predominantly black music has been around for years as Fatsis (2018a) suggests, it has been a persistent feature of policing against black people in the UK. This CBO is similar to when grime music saw discriminatory policing in the form of the Promotion Risk Assessment Form 696, introduced in 2005, it was a way of preventing violent crime happening at live music events. The form contained leading questions that were directed at black music genres and the audiences attending who were predominately black. The form was removed in 2017, however, black music promoters still feel that they are discriminated against (Ibid; Peters, 2018).

In an unprecedented move the Metropolitan gang-crime chief, Commander Jim Stokley has announced that police officers should be given greater powers and that drill rappers should be treated like terrorists. Ultimately using the Terrorism Act 2000 to assist in convictions without proving a link between the incitement of violence and the actual act (Thapar, 2018; Fatsis, 2018b). The idea of treating these young people as terrorists is ridiculous, because they are simply describing their everyday life and the situation they are currently in.

The most significant issue is that drill music is an insight into life as a young black person in society today. It is almost like a cry for help, so rather than suppressing them maybe they should be allowed to be heard. Furthermore, it has been established that the policing of black youths has a long history of racism and harassment. So, the question is, what is the real root of this problem? Is it down to the young artists involved in making the music or is it down to austerity and the lack of services looking out for these vulnerable young people?


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