Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lewisham MP calls for 'gang' video ban

Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander this week introduced a Private Members Bill in the House of Commons 'to give courts the power to order internet service providers to remove certain material which incites gang violence; and for connected purposes'.

Speaking in Parliament on 8 November she said:

'I am introducing this Bill because I am appalled by the proliferation of online videos glorifying gangs and serious youth violence. The police, via the courts and internet service providers, need to be given explicit power to get these videos taken down or to get access to them blocked. These videos act as a recruitment mechanism for gangs. I believe they lead to an increased number of young people in our cities who feel the need to carry a knife for protection and they terrify any ordinary human being who watches them.

I first came across these videos last year, when a constituent contacted me after his son had been the victim of a gang-related mugging. He sent me links to a video that was up on YouTube of the gang that had robbed his son. The video was filmed in broad daylight in a car park in the heart of Catford. It contained images of 10 to 15 young men—perhaps I should say boys—rapping, swearing and waving knives around as if they were cigarettes. The video boasts about violence; it is menacing, sickening and frightening. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these sorts of videos on the internet, not just on YouTube, but on sites such as Spiff TV. If someone types “Brixton gangs”, “Hackney gangs” or “Lewisham gangs” into any online audio-visual search facility, they will find these videos. Not all contain images of knives, but the narrative is the same, “Mess with us and we’ll stab you.” These videos have been viewed tens of thousands of times each—sometimes hundreds of thousands of times'.

(full speech here)

While not wanting to belittle the problems of gangs and violence, I question the response of censoring the internet to deal with them. There all kinds of complex social and economic reasons why gangs exist, and it is all too easy to blame social media. In the aftermath of this summer's riots there has been an escalating panic about them - but people have been rioting, robbing and stabbing each other since long before any of these things were invented.

Some online videos might be interpreted as promoting gangs, but banning them isn't going to make gangs go away - it might just hide the reality. I have looked at some of these videos. My first thought was that I would rather be able to see for myself what some of my neighbours are up to, whether I like it or not. It is also obvious that there is a great deal of posturing and bravado - who's to say what is genuine violent intent and what is just some kids showing off? Really serious career criminals don't tend to provide police with the obvious intelligence helping hand of showing their faces on the screen (I know some of them are masked, but it's not hard to recognise people if they're known to you). You don't see many 'hey hey we're the mafia' videos do you?

Likewise who's to draw the line between glorifying gangs and creative musical expression? A lot of DIY rap and grime videos could be victims of a catch-all ban like this. Similar arguments were made in the early 90s about banning 'gangsta rap' for glorifying violence - apart from denying people from around the world from hearing some of the most innovative music of the period, this ban would have simply swept under the carpet depictions of a world that many people would prefer not to think about but exists nevertheless. Music is also one route out of the limited horizons of gang culture - some of those kids boasting about how they run 'their endz' might go on to greater things - see for example the success of Peckham rapper Giggs.

Here's an example of the kind of thing which I think the MP has in mind. From last year, it's Ruff Man and  Y.Affecta's 'My Neighbourhood', filmed it seems in Taylor Close, Deptford (next to Lapwing Tower) - though it also refers to 'Brocktown - that's my neighbourhood' (or Brockley as some people insist on calling it). It talks about the Ghetto Boys (New Cross/Deptford gang), and I must admit if I bumped into some of these guys masked up in the street when I was walking the dog I would be decidedly wary. At one level, yes, it could be viewed as bragging about gangs. Maybe some of the people in this film have been involved in dodgy business of one kind or another - though of course the police already have countless laws to deal with that.

I do think though I should  be able to choose for myself whether to listen to this kind of music and make my own mind up about such films. Even if you find it abhorrent, maybe it's telling you something you need to know about the city you live in.

Heidi Alexander's Bill is also supported by Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham Deptford. It is though unlikely to become law, as few Private Members Bills get granted the time to get through Parliament.


The Kool Skool said...

Thank you Mr Transpontine,
for high lighting this touchy subject. As someone who as been involved in "Urban Music" culture, its hard to explain the positive come backs from "Endz" videos & anthems to people outside the culture. It is celebratory of negative lifestyles, to some perhaps, but it it gives an outlet to generations of people who have no outlet. The people behind the music also, have a genuine voice, and they facilitate the videos, production, P.R. etc. It is uncomfortable to think of MP's in Westminister deciding what is good for the young of Pecknam, SW9 etc, from the safety of W1, considering the same young people are expected to be positive, in a cut driven future.
All the best

Anonymous said...

It can't be particularly well legislated against anyway without trampling on freedoms of speech & expression. Like dealing with racism & other such ills, censorship should be a weapon of absolute last resort & the problems should be taken on within culture not shoved to the without.

Disaffected said...

I WANT to vote for a left of centre party, I'm a mainstream wishy washy liberal but Joan Ruddock does like to jump onto the dull slow moving band wagons. She has a big majority in an area with massive social need. SAY SOMETHING THAT WILL ROCK THE BOAT!

thanks awfully.