Socialist Worker

Don’t criminalise us

Why do the media and authorities continue to associate black people and black music with crime? Joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism Weyman Bennett, musician and actor Asher D of So Solid Crew, producer and artist Corey Johnson and rapper S

Issue No. 1916

Weyman Bennett

WE LIVE in a racist society. The politicians are prepared to accept, on occasion, that some people are racist.

But they refuse to accept that racism is built into the society they defend.

So their explanation for why black and Asian people end up being disadvantaged in every area of life is to turn to scapegoating—to blame the victims.

Nowhere is this clearer than with the police and the criminal justice system.

Look at the latest stop and search figures under the Terrorism Act (2000).

For Asians they have gone up 285 percent, mainly because of the propaganda saying Muslims are likely to be terrorists.

Last year black young people were six to seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.

Figures released in July of this year showed they are now nine times more likely to be stopped.

The growth of racism against Muslims and asylum seekers has not stopped with them.

It has also encouraged further scapegoating of black people generally.

Why is this happening? There are three main factors—the police, the media and the mainstream politicians.

After Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the subsequent investigation six out of ten people in London said the Metropolitan Police were racist.

Since then the police have gone to huge lengths to fight an ideological war against any of the progress the Stephen Lawrence inquiry called for.

The head of the Met, Sir John Stevens, retired this year and said his greatest achievement was to put the police on a stronger footing than they were after the Lawrence inquiry.

At the centre of his strategy was Operation Trident, which was supposedly targeted at “black gun crime”.

It’s been a growth industry for the police.

Of course we all want to stop gun crime. But Trident has not been about that. It has been a battering ram against calls to root out racism.

They’ve spent £10 million on putting up the posters. Every one has a picture of a black man with a gun and a target.

Yet they keep saying they want positive role models and positive images.

Trident was originally to be called the Caribbean Criminal Unit. It started with claims that across London there were Jamaican Yardie gangsters taking over.

The problem was that they couldn’t find any Yardies. So they sent police to Jamaica to see what a Yardie looks like.

They shipped someone over there, who they knew was a criminal, to be an informant. He was, you might say, a Scotland Yardie.

He disappeared while the police were paying for him to stay at a hotel. He went on to commit crime.

They couldn’t find him until someone went to a police station and said, “He’s down the road. He’s causing a nuisance. Please take him away.”

Meanwhile they had been paying him £5,000 a month to provide information.

Now to most people, that’s criminal. The number of Yardies is tiny. So wider layers have been drawn in as victims of the scapegoating—rappers, musicians, young people on estates, anyone they can portray as a threat.

And the politicians have more than gone along with it. Home secretary David Blunkett said at the start of this year that we should no longer talk of institutional racism, giving a green light to the police.

He and Labour minister Kim Howells have claimed that “many murders are black on black crime”, and they held “idiots like So Solid Crew” and other black artists responsible.

Apart from anything else, does anyone believe Blunkett and Howells have ever listened to that music?

They are also lying about the level of gun crime. It’s not trebled, as recent headlines maintained. This year it has actually fallen.

In the first six months 22 people were shot dead. Those incidents include the tragedy in Oxford where one person killed his family, his wife and two kids.

That’s far more typical of the kind of gun crime that is taking place across Britain.

Most of the firearms that are reported are air rifles, and they are involved in 58 percent of firearms incidents. Most gun deaths, 60 percent, are suicide.

The murder rate in this country has not risen over the last 20 years.

But there is a big increase in the fear of gun crime as a result of the moral panic about young people, and black young people especially.

The truth is that gun crime accounts for only 0.003 percent of all crime in London, according to police figures.

But huge resources are put into fanning the panic about guns, rather than into improving people’s lives.

Now we have racial profiling coming in from the US. It gives official sanction to targeting particular ethnic groups.

In Britain they even want to use national data bases to target families and their children down through the generations.

It’s not just black people. They have set up a special unit aimed at Tamils. They are talking about doing the same for Kurds.

Ethnic minorities make up about

7 percent of the population but about 20 percent of the prison population.

And Operation Trident is actually solving fewer crimes than before. Last year it came up with 210 guns, when the pre-Trident figure averages 300 a year.

They are not meeting their targets, to use New Labour speak. But they are going to expand Trident nevertheless.

They need the cover of campaigns like Operation Trident because they cannot address the roots of racism and crime in capitalist society.

They cannot admit that what generates crime is poverty and the way people are forced to compete against one another.

They can’t admit that the really rich are not the people who get robbed, they are the ones that do the robbing.

This is the real crisis in society. It is accompanied by a political crisis. New Labour is outbidding the Tories over scapegoating.

Black politicians who rose to prominence because they said they would take up the concerns of the community are now providing cover for New Labour’s authoritarianism.

Who is speaking out to say that we want to stand together—black and white—against injustice?

Some of that is being said in rap and music. It is being said when people come together to oppose the fascist BNP or against racism.

We need it to be said at the political level, through an alternative to New Labour that genuinely represents black people.


‘I’m sick of hypocrisy in the music industry’

Skeme

I HAVE beefs with the culture around us.

This culture means that if you are black, and you say anything, then you are staying right where they found you. I know that as an artist. But people should speak out.

When you go to music industry events, you find people who say they want to represent this urban music, this street thing. But they don’t want anyone really from the streets.

I’ve got a problem with it being called urban. It’s a result of people having a problem with the word black.

It is black music. I don’t care if you’re white and you sing, you’re singing black music. I don’t have a problem with it. It’s cool. It’s not like we are saying you can’t come to our party. You can.

White people buy my music, even when I am talking about black issues.

There’s racism every day in this country. I was coming back from a gig in Penzance and a man tried to attack me on the train. I wasn’t having it. I made the whole carriage look.

There’s racism in football and in music. Have you noticed how they rotate a song two years later? The first time it was probably by a black man and underground.

He might have sung it even better, but it’s the second version, often by someone white, that makes the charts.

If the best voice is white then let it go through. But why are real black voices held back?

We all need to say what’s going on.

Black people have been here a long time and have built a lot of things. It’s time to give us our part, our piece and our say.

What really upsets me is that when I see we still have to protest about racism. But those protests are good things.

It’s one reason I could never diss all white people just because one white person is racist.

You see a lot of white people on those anti-racist protests, and we need more of that.

And we need to put across the alternative picture.

The mainstream media don’t want to put out that Asher D was at the Sylvia Young school.

They don’t want to talk about the circumstances that led him to fear for his life.

They just want to put out the image of him getting caught with a gun.

Then So Solid gets banned from performing in England, while they let in 50 Cent, who is a proper gun man, to perform at Wembley. What is that?

It’s hypocrisy. It’s because they can make millions from 50 Cent.

Most artists, especially in Britain, are not millionaires. We are just trying to get by and to get our message across.

And the message is not what the authorities want to hear.


‘Time to tell it like it is’

Asher D

IT MAKES sense for me to speak out over these issues. I’m a rapper. I was caught with a gun and throughout my whole career I’ve experienced some form of racism.

I started off at a young age filming and acting. I went to the Sylvia Young theatre school. I did ballet and tap. I dabbled in everything.

I didn’t get a lot of respect from my peers in Peckham, south London, for doing stuff like that.

Like many young people, I was under a lot of pressure from people around me to do what they were doing—crime and stuff I didn’t want to get involved in at the time.

It was a hard job keeping a straight path. It’s hard today for young people who see a small number of people making money from crime while all they have to look forward to after school and college is some job on the minimum wage.

But then you get what I call the hype, which exaggerates the problems that are there.

We experienced this in So Solid Crew. So much of what was said about us was not true. A lot of people still don’t understand what happened.

The media, the press, people in high places and authority figures who give us information like to spin things a lot of the time.

People can take the newspaper as gospel. I look at it and I laugh. These people will say anything to make you believe a certain thing.

So Solid did have music events where there were problems in the crowd.

On one occasion at the Astoria two people were shot. The media made it look like we were involved—that we knew the people who did the shooting.

They made it look like this will happen at any rave you go to. Before you knew it police all over the country were banning us, and promoters were afraid to work with us.

I had mothers and fathers coming up to me distressed. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of what I’d call the hype.

It’s not just the media. It’s also the government.

These are people whose main goal, it seems to me, is to make money, to achieve things for themselves and to stay in power, to keep their seat in parliament.

They encourage a lot of people to think racism is not that bad any more, but I’m here to tell you that it’s still around.

Sometimes it’s just disguised. When you look at the BNP they try to be very articulate, to read and do their research.

Don’t be deceived. Right now a lot of the images the media are portraying of black people are just scaremongering.

Take this whole Muslim thing—they are just trying to make you scared of these people.

We need to open our eyes to what is happening. Pick up some books—the kind that are not readily available.

Use your time. Let’s start telling the story as it is.


Come together

Corey Johnson

THE GREAT thing now is to see people coming together—different ages, black and white.

I’ve been working with Unite Against Fascism and Love Music Hate Racism for the last eight months.

When I first got involved, although I had a lot of experience of racism and prejudice growing up, I wasn’t fully aware of how serious the whole effect of the BNP and other racist organisations was.

Sometimes, if it does not affect us directly, we can end up saying, “If it’s not happening round my estate or in my street then it isn’t a problem.”

But it’s really important that we all look around, beyond our immediate experience, and start to link up. That’s one of the things that’s been missing in recent years.

I did have problems hanging around with certain individuals when I was a teenager. But the biggest problem I had as a youth and the biggest problem I come across now is Operation Trident.

The statistics show that, though the media goes on about black on black crime, there is more white on white crime in this country. But it’s never called that. There is no “Operation White-ent”.

There’s no comment about farmers and a lot of the people who live out in the countryside.

They have more access to guns than teenagers who live on the streets.

Racism

If a farmer gets upset, he isn’t looking to go punch the next-door neighbour. He’s going round his house with a shotgun.

We don’t make guns in the streets of south London. We don’t make guns in the ghetto, as they call it. Guns are made by governments. And governments give them readily to certain individuals, but then want to blame it on other individuals.

It’s the streets that get the blame. It’s the way society works, by pointing the finger at someone else.

Of course when it comes to music certain individuals can be a negative influence.

But everybody is individual—you can’t blame a class of people and say it’s because of black people or all musicians. And the problem is far deeper than that.

It’s very convenient for the authorities to stigmatise garage, UK hip-hop or R & B. But why don’t you have rock groups who smash up hotels or hold cocaine parties banned?

It is connected with racism. Urban music as it is now was first classed as black music, but now you have got some artists who are not black.

You’ve got artists talking about experience in life—what they’ve been through, what they’ve seen.

That can include negative things. But it’s not always or mainly a glorification. It’s just like a film or a book or any account of events. It’s just trying to put their version across in music.

Then the genre gets stigmatised because certain people don’t like the message, the real picture that emerges.

Weyman, Asher, Corey and Skeme were taking part in a discussion at Marxism 2004, the week-long socialist festival held in London in July. Hundreds of people packed the meeting and took part, many adding their own experiences and views to an electric debate. Tapes of the meeting are available from Bookmarks—phone 020 7637 1848.


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Features
Sat 28 Aug 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1916
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