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HideOut Youth Zone’s Deputy Head of Youth Work and Partnerships speaks up on the role of the drill music in criminal youth cases.

Deputy Head of Youth Work and Partnerships, Kerin Morris, headed to Liverpool on the 9th October to serve as a panellist at the Society of Labour Lawyers conference on “Drill Music and Racial Bias in Criminal Trials.”

The event, taking place in connection with the 2023 Labour Party Conference, explored the continued use of drill and grime music as evidence in youth criminal trials, raising key questions around police handling of the genre and the validity of using such artforms to help generate convictions.

Drill lyrics and videos are being increasingly cited in courtrooms as proof of aggressive behaviour, gang affiliation and in some cases even the bragging of real-life violent offences. Whilst the CPS, as recently as 2022, insist such evidence is only offered when “important” and “relevant” to the case, speakers at the event noted how easily this leads to racial stereotyping and the criminalising of artistic expression.

Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell speaking at the conference noted how drill music is being particularly utilized by prosecutions to target black youth, suggesting authorities build up “a picture of a group of young people being a gang. They do that by building up a narrative around the neighbourhood; around their ethnicity. ‘Of course they must be in a gang [because they are] young Black people from an inner city who share an interest in music that has lyrics that purport to be about gang affiliation.”

New shadow minister for Youth Justice Janet Daby similarly spoke out against these associations with the musical genre, “There are serious concerns about deciphering lyrics, and drill music’s only been around for 10 years. So why are police officers all of a sudden professionals in that?”

Police concern with drill also extends to strict regulations around the distribution of musical content and videos, including the submission of lyrics to authorities before artists’ tracks are released and removals of works from YouTube that may demonstrate “potentially harmful content.”

By censoring the genre in this way however, young people are denied a vital mode of creative expression and storytelling. Many, far from seeing these styles as promoting negativity, regard drill and grime as hopeful forms; a way to spark discussion and give voice to those who don’t always feel heard in society.

Kerin Morris encourages this idea, suggesting more work needs to be done to listen to young people’s message and stop condemning the drill genre:

“Instead of demonising it, let’s discuss the issues at the face of it. It should be about educating and empowering young people to express themselves and explain the meanings of their own work. Let’s get them engaged in the debates we’re having, let’s create more pathways, let’s invest more in youth work and its provisions. Let’s let young people tell their own stories in their own way.”

Thankyou Kerin for speaking out on such an important issue! The conference not only helped raise awareness for the criminalizing of youth musical expression but was also concluded by a commitment from the Labour Government to create “a criminal justice system that doesn’t racially profile people” should they be voted in next election.