Black Lives Matter Event Series – Part 1: How the US and UK state criminalise Rap and how to combat it

Wednesday 20 January 2021

Keir Monteith KC

Shahida Begum

Cecilia Goodwin

Andrea Dennis

Erik Nielson

John Hamasaki

The Garden Court Chambers Criminal Defence Team brings you a series of online events on 'Black Lives Matter – challenging racist stereotypes in the justice system'.

This event was split into two separate webinars. The second of which took place on 12 May 2021. Click here to watch the recording of the second event.

Winners of the Legal 500 Crime Set of the Year, Garden Court Chambers is one of the leading criminal defence barristers' chambers in the UK. 

Date: Wednesday 20 January 2021
Time: 5pm - 6:30pm GMT / 12 - 1:30pm EST / 9 - 10:30am PST
Venue: Online  
Cost: Free
Areas of Law: Criminal Defence

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An international event where we were joined by US academics, experts, attorneys, and UK Counsel: a historic first. We considered, shared, and discussed tactics on how to combat the state’s use of rap lyrics in prosecuting serious crime asking questions about both intention and subsequent consequences. Should the UK adopt the pre-trial proactive campaigning style sometimes used by defence attorneys in the US? How do we encourage more people who actually know about the reality of Rap to step up and become experts? What happens in capital cases and how do you deal with the pressure?

The speakers from the US included: Andrea Dennis, a former assistant federal public defender who holds the John Byrd Martin Chair of Law at the University of Georgia School of Law; Erik Nielson, Associate Professor at the University of Richmond who has testified and/or consulted in more than 60 cases.; and John Hamasaki, a civil rights and criminal defense attorney who has built a practice with a focus on defending constitutional protections in complex criminal cases implicating civil rights and civil liberties. Notable recent cases include representing rappers 'Laz Tha Boy' and ‘Drakeo the Ruler’, in prominent cases involving the use of rap lyrics as criminal evidence.

It is worth noting that even after Drakeo had been acquitted of all murder and attempted murder allegations, the state still argued that Drakeo’s rap lyrics, videos, and collaborations were evidence of a criminal gang conspiracy. Indeed when Drakeo was questioned in his police interview he was told that his music would be the ‘soundtrack’ of any trial. ‘Jurors don’t like to see that stuff … your rap videos of you talking about shooting’. He has recently been released from jail after agreeing a plea deal for the three years he has served. His first video and track “Fights Don’t Matter” has already had over 1,200,000 views. 

Andrea and Erik are also co-authors of ‘Rap on trial’' which has been described as "An illuminating, powerful, and disturbing exposé of how Hip Hop's often raw, fantastical lyrics are taken out of context to criminalise Black and Brown youth. ‘Rap on Trial’ is required reading for anyone who cares about justice and racial equity."

The first speaker from the UK was Cecilia Goodwin, Solicitor Advocate at Stephensons Solicitors who recently appeared in the BBC documentary 'Defending Digga D'. Digga D was served with a criminal behaviour order (CBO) that controls his creative output, meaning he is not allowed to release any music, or videos, without telling the police. If the music breaches the terms of his CBO – for example 'inciting or encouraging violence', he can be recalled for arrest. The documentary tells the story of how the rapper manages his music under the strict terms, alongside the team around him, including his lawyer Cecilia.

The second UK speaker was our Shahida Begum, a specialist criminal defence barrister of the Garden Court Chambers Criminal Defence Team who has defended young defendants in joint enterprise cases raising gang/drill issues. Shahida has also successfully appealed a conviction of a youth defendant due to a bad character misdirection and went on to secure a not guilty verdict at re-trial.

Keir Monteith QC of the Garden Court Chambers Criminal Defence Team chaired the webinar. Keir is a highly sought-after leading silk who represents clients facing heavyweight criminal allegations. He has been instructed in numerous murders, industrial scale Class A drug importations and conspiracies, escape from custody cases and Appeals against conviction and sentence. He is the external advisor on the Arts & Humanities Research Council grant, 'Prosecuting Rap: Criminal Justice and UK Black Youth Expressive Culture' (2020-21​), sits as part time judge and initiated the BLM series of webinars at Garden Court Chambers.



The Event Series

Summer 2020 saw a call to action. The Black Lives Matter movement has demanded immediate and radical changes that are needed to address the violent and institutionalised racism embedded in the justice system and policing worldwide. 

During September and October 2020, the Garden Court Chambers Criminal Defence Team held a series of webinars entitled ‘Drill Music, Gangs and Prosecutions – Challenging Racist Stereotypes in the Criminal Justice System'. The panels featured community activists and non-legal academics, contributing real insight and lived experience, inspiring us to bring about real change. The recordings have been watched by over 1500 people.

The fight for racial justice is rooted in collaborative action; we want to build on this, push the boundaries, and educate ourselves in how we can initiate tangible and equitable change in the criminal justice system.

The current Garden Court Chambers Black Lives Matter event series features Garden Court counsel and explores issues that range from the American experience of how the State uses Rap lyrics and videos to prosecute serious crime, UK policing of so-called "gang activity" resulting in deportation, in-depth analysis of racism in the justice system and the Black Lives Matter protests.

Part 2 - Gang Mythologies and Deportation
5pm-6.30pm, Wednesday 3 February 2021
Our panel of speakers explored how the Home Office uses evidence in failed prosecutions, and so called “intelligence” gathered through policing and monitoring of alleged gang activity, as a basis for deportation in what they call Operation Nexus. Our panel includes Greg Ó Ceallaigh of Garden Court Chambers, Dr Alpa Parmar, Associate Director of Border Criminologies at the University of Oxford, Maria Brul, Senior Advocacy Coordinator at Detention Action and Joan Martin, Family's for Justice Campaigner. The webinar was chaired by our Joint Head of Chambers Stephanie Harrison QC.

Part 3 - How to understand and confront racism in the justice system
5pm-6.30pm, Wednesday 3 March 2021
Dexter Dias QC, joined by Keir Monteith QC and Danielle Manson, of Garden Court Chambers presented an in-depth analysis of racism in the justice system. Dexter Dias QC broadcast a TEDx Talk in 2020 entitled 'Racism thrives on silence - speak up!', which received well over 1 million views, this webinar discussed further the issues he raises in this TEDx talk, namely it exposed toxic myths about race, in order to allow hope, change and justice to flourish. This webinar was chaired by Judy Khan QC of Garden Court Chambers.

Part 4 - Defending Black Lives Matter protests 
5pm-6.30pm, Tuesday 18 May 2021
Following the Garden Court Chambers webinar series on protest law in June/July 2020, we will be focusing on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests of summer 2020. Black Protest Legal Support, a group of Legal Observers set up to support BLM activists and protesters, reported a worrying return to dangerous and racially motivated policing tactics at these protests. These include accounts of horses charging at protesters, kettling of crowds (during a pandemic), and violence against protesters and legal observers. We will explore how to fight racist policing and protect the right to protest. Presented and organised by Fatima Jichi and Zehrah Hasan of Garden Court Chambers, both founding members of Black Protest Legal Support

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