Friday, 14 November 2008

Grime & Punishment:How the authorities criminalise youth culture

This is a response to an article in the register : Full article here :

Police vet live music, DJs for 'terror risk'

Locking down garage...and RnB, basement
Andrew Orlowski
A dozen London boroughs have implemented a "risk assessment" policy for live music that permits the police to ban any live music if they fail to receive personal details from the performers 14 days in advance. The demand explicitly singles out performances and musical styles favoured by the black community: garage and R&B, and MCs and DJs.
However all musical performances - from one man playing a guitar on up - are subject to the demands once implemented by the council. And the threat is serious: failure to comply "may jeopardise future events by the promoter or the venue". (End of extract)

As an organisation that works with black and ethnic minority youth, who make 'grime' music and are linked to so called gangs, we have found the young people we work with are increasingly recent converts or sympathetic to Islam, a religion at odds with criminal behaviour or anything normally associated with 'gangs'. There is undoubtedly a degree of militancy in their conversion or sympathy with Islam, and we are aware of some who term themselves 'Taliban' and are openly hostile to the police and authority. Perhaps this would convince many that these measures are appropriate. The truth however is that these same young people are often searching for a discipline and structure to their lives that Islam answers and which their own communities have failed too deliver. They also have an identity as 'Black British'. This identity allows them to feel pride in their community, nation and heritage, that is different but not necessarily in conflict with mainstream British Identity. This does not mean they are terrorists or sympathetic to terrorism. Like us they were horrified by the events of the 7th of July when the Tube Network was attacked, but remain highly suspicious of the blame placed on Islam or 'Islamic Terrorists' and place much significance on the shooting of innocent Brazilian Electritian, Jean Charles DeMendez, at Stockwell Tube Station a week later.

If these young people pose a threat or risk of harm to anyone, it is sadly most often their own peer group or just themselves. Although we understand and seek to reduce this harm through education, discussion, and advocacy; the 'persecution' or 'targeting' of their music or events seems ridiculous and counter productive.

Their music is a reflection of the brutal realities of their day to day lives (getting stop and searched by the police, being excluded from education & training and a constant fear of harm from street rivals) Most have spent time in the secure estate (Feltham Young Offenders Institution has been identified by informed observers as a principle recruiting ground for 'street gangs', and a steady stream of alienated, disaffected young people are constantly being referred too them by our criminal justice system) It is perhaps no surprise that some have formed an identification with the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. Most of our young people refer to their community (Peckham) as 'Peck-Narm' in reference to the conflict in Vietnam, which US soldiers referred to as 'Narm'. This is confirmation, along with the dark humour of the use of terms such as 'Taliban', of their outsider status and alienation from mainstream society.

Measures like those mentioned in the original article serve to remind black youth, and those that work with them, that they are always under suspicion, and if they insist on getting together into groups and express their anger (or anything else) they can be branded 'terrorists'.

We feel this was recently highlighted by Newsagent's Jeremy Paxman asking Dizzie Rascal 'do you consider yourself to be British?' over a debate about Barack Obama.(5 minutes into the interview pasted below)

Dizzie Rascal on BBC 'Newsnight'

The assumption being if you are a young black and ethnic minority person in the UK and speak non standard English you are somehow open to having your national identity questioned.

We know young people are very sensitive to 'projections' from those around them, and if society in general label them terrorists, criminals or just thugs...that's is inevitably what they will be. Each generation seems to forget that from Teddy Boys to Punks, young people have attempted to 'shock' and unsettle the status quo. Long may this continue. The alignment of youth culture with something as repellent and horrific as terrorism is taking this nations tradition of demon-izing youth to whole new levels of scare mongering and smearing.

Listen to the tracks 'Positive' and 'Reality' on our ReverbNation player (on the right of this blog) for an insight into the thoughts of our youth.

"They say I'm a criminal,
But the government are thieves.
Ive been hit too many times
To turn the other cheek (crooks!)
They took the bible, re-wrote the psalms,
Took coke from Columbia and oil from Afghanistan.
Wars in Iran, they celebrate when they hung Saddam
Malcom X is gone, he told the black man too stand up strong.
Wars carry on between the good and the Babylon,
Never saw the footprints, the Lord had me in his arms.
Why do the media think all Muslims carry bombs?
And anyone dressed in a hoodie has a fire arm!
Don't get it twisted man."

Jahmai : Reality

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