Part 2 of How the US and UK state criminalise Rap and how to combat it

Wednesday 12 May 2021

Keir Monteith KC

Shahida Begum

Cecilia Goodwin

Andrea Dennis

Erik Nielson

John Hamasaki

Emerson Sykes

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 has been split into two separate webinars. The first of which took place on 20 January 2021. Click here to watch the recording of the first event.

Date: Wednesday 12 May 2021
Time: 5pm - 6:30pm GMT / 12 - 1:30pm EST / 9 - 10:30am PST
Venue: Online  
Cost: Free
Areas of Law: Criminal Defence , Youth Justice & Child Rights

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One day we will ask ourselves how on earth the State was ever allowed to get away with using music as evidence to prosecute Black defendants in serious crime cases. Johnny Cash sang: ‘I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die’; no one has ever suggested that he should have been charged with any criminal offence. Meanwhile, here in the UK, the State has prosecuted Black children for murder and asked the jury to conclude they were part of a violent criminal gang purely because they were present in a rap video. This racist stereotyping has got to stop.

Part 2 of our hugely successful international webinar 'How the US and UK state criminalise Rap and how to combat it' will feature US academics, attorneys, and UK lawyers. We will consider, share, and discuss tactics on how to combat the state’s use of rap lyrics in prosecuting serious crime referencing recent articles and international expertise.

In Part 2 we will explore: what happens in capital cases and how do you deal with the pressure? How Rappers and their fans can enjoy freedom of speech without fear of prosecution.  Why aren’t UK defence lawyers instructing Rap experts. Are police officers qualified to give expert evidence on Rap?

The speakers from the US include: 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, and Erik Nielson, Associate Professor at the University of Richmond.

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 third member of the panel is John Hamasaki, the attorney of rapper ‘Drakeo the Ruler’. 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 2M views. 

The fourth US panel member is Emerson Sykes, a staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project where he focuses on First Amendment free speech protections. Emerson will discuss freedom of expression, and the recent restrictions imposed upon incarcerated persons' First Amendment rights and the unconstitutional use of rap music as criminal evidence.

The speakers from the UK include 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, recently nominated for a BAFTA, 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 is 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 will chair 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.

This summer 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 criminal justice system and policing worldwide. During Garden Court’s series of webinars we have learnt from academics, experts, lawyers and grass-root activists about how we can platform voices that have been consistently dismissed and erased. 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.


Webinars in the series

Part 1 - How the US and UK state criminalise Rap and how to combat it (Split into two webinars)
5pm-6:30pm, Wednesday 20 January 2021 &
5pm-6.30pm, Wednesday 12 May 2021

Part 2 - Gang Mythologies and Deportation
5pm-6.30pm, Wednesday 3 February 2021

Part 3 - How to understand and confront racism in the justice system
5pm-6.30pm, Wednesday 3 March 2021

Part 4 - Defending Black Lives Matter protests 
5pm-6.30pm, Tuesday 18 May 2021

Previous webinar series - 'Drill music, prosecutions and gangs - challenging racist stereotypes in the justice system'

Part 1 - Understanding Drill– artist and expert testimony​
5pm-6.30pm, Tuesday 8 September 2020

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

Part 3 - Drill 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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