Drill music, gangs and prosecutions – challenging racist stereotypes in the criminal justice system

Tuesday 8 September 2020

Alex Taylor-Camara

Andre Montgomery-Johnson

Dr Eithne Quinn

Dr Abenaa Owusu-Bempah

Part 1: Understanding Drill – artist and expert testimony

In the first of our series of online events, we bring together a panel of speakers to provide expert and grassroots testimony to foster a better understanding of Drill music, its context and origins.  This knowledge will provide the basis for the events that follow where we examine how to combat the State’s racist gang and Drill narrative, make legal submissions to exclude so-called gang and Drill evidence and enhance the ability to run proactive defences in criminal trials.

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: Tuesday 8 September 2020
Time: 5pm-6.30pm
Venue: Online  
Cost: Free
Areas of Law: Criminal Defence , Youth Justice & Child Rights

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The Black Lives Matter Movement has highlighted the racist nature of the legal system. The scales need to be rebalanced so there is no discrimination from the decision to stop and search to the jury’s verdict. The whole system needs to be representative of the community it serves. Maybe then justice will be done and seen to be done.

In many trials the State’s starting point and narrative is racist. Groups of Black youths who have a connection to Drill music, despite their good character and positive aspirations, are wrongly assumed to be members of violent criminal gangs overnight. Police officer ‘experts’ provide evidence of association in parks and ‘on the road’,  they ‘translate’ Drill lyrics, so called gang signs and then pronounce on turf and territories. There is often an imbalance when the defence respond. Legal arguments fail to exclude irrelevant or prejudicial material. Defence experts are rarely called. During the summing up, all too often,  the prosecution stereotypes remain unchallenged.

The consequences are often devastating with swathes of Black youth being convicted on the back of superficially persuasive gang narratives despite never holding a weapon, being involved in any assault or being part of a gang. The devastation continues with the lurid headlines that accompany the convictions and the vicious circle starts again.

But the State doesn’t stop there. The police continue to use stop and search in a discriminatory and arbitrary manner; they employ the so called gang matrix to criminally categorise and to keep Black youth under surveillance and they ban Drill artists from performing their music, threatening to lock them up if they don’t obey. All of this on the back of centuries of oppression.

In an attempt to rebalance the scales in the legal arena, the Garden Court Chambers Criminal Defence Team is running a series of webinars that examine the State’s criminalisation of Black youth through racist stereotypes of gangs and Drill music. During this journey we will be acknowledging and celebrating the expertise of Black lawyers, Black artists and Black professionals. We are ambitious and hope that one day something along these lines will be used during the training of judges and lawyers.

Speakers, 5pm, Tuesday 8 September 2020 

Alex Taylor-Camara, Barrister, Garden Court Chambers
Alex practises exclusively within the field of criminal defence with experience spanning 30 years. Having represented many people living in Toxteth, Moss Side, Handsworth, Brixton, Harlesden, Tottenham, Hackney, the docks in Cardiff, as well as inner city areas in Leeds, Coventry and Nottingham, Alex has gained a wealth of experience securing acquittals in criminal cases arising from disputes between rival groups in inner city areas. He is strongly committed to representing the most disadvantaged in the community. Alex has attended local inner city schools to talk to children about how the law affects them on the street and has assisted in numerous mentor schemes targeting disadvantaged young black youths. Alex has also contributed to focus groups organised by the Mayor to address youth violence and gang violence. Alex continues to act for many individuals involved in the music industry charged with serious criminal charges. Over many years Alex has represented artists charged with murder, fraud, serious drug and violence offences securing acquittals in many trials.

Andre Montgomery-Johnson, Journalist 
Andre Montgomery-Johnson (aka Mr Montgomery) is a journalist who has interviewed some of UK Drill’s biggest stars going behind the scenes as they record music and shoot videos. He authored the critically acclaimed YouTube documentary on Drill music, ‘Terms and Conditions’, which included interviews with Skengdo and AM, Lavida Loca and the Drill Minister. Under the name Mr Montgomery, he's one of the few journalists to cover drill closely from a grassroots level. 

Dr Eithne Quinn, Senior Lecturer, University of Manchester
Dr Eithne Quinn acts as a defence expert in UK legal cases in which the prosecution seeks to rely on defendants’ rap music and related expressive culture as incriminating evidence. She leads a project Prosecuting Rap: Criminal Justice and UK Black Youth Expressive Culture (Arts & Humanities Research Council, 2020-21) and is the author of Nuthin’ But a G Thang: The Culture and Commerce of Gangsta Rap (Columbia University Press, 2005). She has been instructed in cases for over a decade. 

Dr Abenaa Owusu-Bempah, Assistant Professor of Law, The London School of Economics and Political Science
Abenaa is Assistant Professor of criminal law and criminal evidence at the LSE. Abenaa’s research interests lie primarily in the areas of criminal procedure, the law of evidence and criminal law. She has particular expertise on fair trial rights and the participatory role of defendants in criminal proceedings. Abenaa’s current work focuses on the admissibility and use of rap music as evidence in criminal trials. She has been conducting an analysis of appeal judgments, from which there are very clear themes related to the context of cases and the evidential issues.


Event Series (further details to be announced)

Part 2 - 'Challenging the admissibility of Drill music in criminal trials'
5pm-6.30pm, Tuesday 15 September 2020

Part 3 - 'Drill music injunctions and Ancillary Orders'
5pm-6.30pm, Tuesday 22 September 2020

Part 4 -  Debunking prosecution myths: “Gang” stereotypes, joint enterprise & racist driven stop & searches
5pm-6.30pm, 29 September 2020

Part 5 - Gangs: Pre-trial issues and Criminal Behaviour Orders
5pm-6.30pm, 6 October 2020

Part 6 - Gangs: how to exclude so called gang evidence in criminal trials and challenging the Joint Enterprise narrative
5pm-6.30pm, 13 October 2020

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