Police linking drill music to youth violence is wrong says music mentor

One of Bristol’s leading youth workers has challenged police claims that drill music is contributing to a rise in violence on the streets among young people.

Darren Alexander, who runs a music mentoring organisation for young people in Bristol’s disadvantaged communities, questioned the narrative being proposed by police chiefs in Bristol, which links the rise in drill music to the increase in knife crime and violence among young people on the city’s streets.

Mr Alexander, whose award-winning organisation ACE – Aspiration Creation Elevation – works with young people primarily in the St Pauls and Ashley areas of inner city Bristol, spoke out after one of Bristol’s leading police chiefs linked drill music to a rise in street violence among young people.

READ MORE: YouTube drill music videos linked to teen knife crime in Bristol

Speaking on the Bristol Unpacked podcast, Mr Alexander said while he accepted a lot of the lyrical content of drill music could be threatening or violent, most of this was ‘for show’, and anyone who suggested that drill music caused, led to or exacerbated violence was ‘putting the cart before the horse’.

He said the causes of youth violence were a lot more complex, and there were many people involved in drill music who were not violent, and many young people who carried knives or were involved in violence who were not involved in making music.

“I’m not surprised that Avon and Somerset police took that stance – they are firefighters, they see what’s happening on the streets, they see the stats, they see what they see and they put one and one together. If you see a young person making drill music or in a drill video, and you see them on the street carrying a knife or hanging round with people who are known to carry knives or have been arrested for similar or related offences, you’re going to assume things.

“This doesn’t address the root problem. These people have been increasingly marginalised over generations, economically, socially and racially. They shouldn’t be blamed for what we are seeing on the surface. I find it disappointing that we blame young people who are feeling lost and disenfranchised, when really we should be looking at ourselves,” he said.

“But I don’t feel that’s the correct way to perceive things. It’s very surface-level.

“The issue is that these young people are born into families, households and communities which are difficult and which are challenging, and which inflict adverse childhood experiences, and ripple through time and as they grow up we see the result of that. And those initial challenges are caused by society and systemic issues that have gone on for a long, long time before what we are seeing right now.

“I don’t feel that drill music is the cause of these problems. There’s no doubt there’s a link, there’s no doubt that there’s young people talking about incidences, talking about violence and talking about all sorts of things in their lyrics on drill music, but is that what is then perpetuating them to go and do things in real life? I don’t feel it is.

“When I was young, there was grime music, and grime music was also something that the police picked up on to say X, Y and Z, but you can’t just keep blaming these different genres of music. The reason why these things are happening in our society is not down to music, because I believe if the music wasn’t there, these things would still be happening,” he said.

Mr Alexander said social media, modern technology and instant messaging now meant young people could communicate much more quickly than ever before, and the lyrics used in drill music is just one of many ways in which young people are communicating to each other.

“It’s not about the music, it’s about how the young people are feeling and how they believe they have to position themselves in society for their own safety, their own well-being, and their own sense of purpose – that is what they are doing,” he said. “It’s not about music. It’s about them as people, and who they are in society,” he added.

Mr Alexander spoke after Chief Inspector Dan Forster, Avon and Somerset Police’s area commander for South Gloucestershire, told a local community safety group earlier this month that the problem had surfaced over the last four or five months.

“We’ve got a particularly challenging situation with young men aligning themselves with gang culture and carrying weapons and knives,” he told members of the multi-agency South Gloucestershire Safer and Stronger Communities Strategic Partnership.

Chief Inspector Dan Forster, the Avon and Somerset Police area commander for South Gloucestershire, addresses the South Gloucestershire Safer and Stronger Communities Strategic Partnership on Friday, October 8
Chief Inspector Dan Forster addresses the South Gloucestershire Safer and Stronger Communities Strategic Partnership
(Image: South Gloucestershire Council webcast)

After the meeting, Ch Insp Forster told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the force had recorded 82 offences of weapons possession in the past 12 months in South Gloucestershire, a rise of five per cent on the previous 12 months.

“Over the past six months we saw an increase in teenage boys making drill videos that they were posting on YouTube,” he said. “Some of these boys were from the South Glos area, and were also committing offences in Bristol city centre. We have increased proactive patrols in South Glos and have recovered weapons from some of these boys.

“We are working closely with school and the local authority to identify those involved in the videos/possessing weapons and are actively looking to educate and safeguard them and if necessary/appropriate, take enforcement action,” he added.

But youth leader Mr Alexander disagreed. “I’m not trying to discredit anyone’s opinions, I just have my own opinions. I’m just saying you could link these incidents to fashionable clothes, you could link it to many different things, different gadgets, and drill music is a trend just like many other things

“It’s easy to pick on that because it’s a bit of a scapegoat. It’s easy to highlight that and say ‘look this is what’s causing this’.

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“I’m not denying that drill music can be quite provocative for sure, but there’s young people that are involved in situations who don’t make drill and are not involved in music, and I know there are many young people who are involved in drill and are in now way involved in any violence.

“There’s many different forms of communication, and drill music is one of them. Back in my day if someone didn’t like somebody else, even if I didn’t know the two people, I would know the things that were being said between them, it would just spread.

“Nowadays we have many different forms of communication, very quick, very snappy. So if a young person today didn’t like somebody else and drill music didn’t exist, it would spread the same way. There’s so many ways that information could spread without drill music.

“It’s easy to see this from the outside and think wow this is so aggressive. I know a lot of people who make drill who are not involved in the roads in any way, but they are celebrated drill artists,” he added.

A spokesperson for Avon and Somerset police said Chief Insp Forster had been talking specifically about a rise in violent incidents involving youths in South Gloucestershire back in the summer, which coincided with a flurry of drill videos being produced by youths in that area, that involved teenage boys publishing videos with gang colours clearly on display, ‘calling out’ opposing gangs.

Avon and Somerset Police’s lead for knife crime, Chief Inspector James Turner, said the issue was a complex one.

“The causes of youth violence are complex and multi-faceted, and we are working hard with our partners, especially in our Violence Reduction Units (VRUs), to understand and address these causes,” he said.

“We understand that videos and various music genres are used as a creative form of expression for many young people and that there may be a link between these videos and incidents that play out on the streets.

“However we also understand that for many people, music is an outlet and looking at these videos in isolation will only address the symptoms, and not the causes of youth violence, which are layered and nuanced.

“Our approach to tackling youth violence is a partnership one based on early intervention and diversion. Through the VRUs, we have dedicated school link officers and PCSOs building relationships with young people from an early age, educating them on how to stay safe.

A stock picture of a man holding a knife
(Image: PA)

“We have developed innovative schemes such as the Blunt Truth educational package which is now being rolled out to schools in Bristol, a partnership with the NHS which educates young people on the health consequences of knife crime, how to anonymously report knife carrying, and provides hands on first aid training for young people to learn vital lifesaving skills should they witness a knife attack and need to help a friend.

“Another innovative scheme which looks to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to avoid the criminal justice system, is the Call In scheme, a partnership between the police, Bristol City Council and Golden Key, where young people arrested for drug dealing in certain areas of Bristol are offered the chance to avoid prosecution by engaging with mentoring, diversion and opportunity building sessions.

“These schemes are just two examples of our how Avon and Somerset Police are looking at the bigger picture. We know we cannot enforce our way out of knife crime and we hear loud and clear the community’s concerns, which is why we are strengthening our multiagency and diversionary pathways which seek to address the causes as well as the devastating symptoms of youth violence,” he added.

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