A human rights charity has highlighted the racist use of ‘gang’ evidence such as drill music videos in a new application to the miscarriage of justice watchdog in an attempt to overturn the conviction of three black men.
Durrell Goodall, Reano Walters and Nathaniel “Jay” Williams were convicted of murder in 2016 under the common law doctrine of joint enterprise. They were part of a group of 11 black teenagers convicted for the death of Abdul Hafidah. They argue that their convictions were tainted by institutional racism in Greater Manchester Police and the CPS.
Their convictions relied upon evidence of alleged gang affiliation including a year-old rap video recorded with a youth centre and an apparent preference for the colour red. No similar evidence was presented for the teenager who actually delivered the fatal stabbing. Goodall, Walters and Williams have stated that the alleged gang was a ‘music initiative’ without any criminal element.
Liberty argues that this evidence of gang affiliation is used disproportionately against young black men. In particular, the use of rap and drill music is based on racialised stereotyping and cultural misunderstanding. In concert, this criminalises friendships, breaching the ECHR’s right to a private life and undermines the possibility of a fair trial.
‘Joint Enterprise’ is a legal doctrine by which individuals can be convicted of murder even if they were only bystanders. It has been a source of controversy for over a decade as reported on the Justice Gap and has a disproportionate effect on Black people. In 2012, the House of Commons’ Justice Select Committee first requested that the CPS keep statistics on Joint Enterprise convictions, but it was not until earlier this year that, faced with a legal challenge by Liberty and the campaign group Jengba (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association), the CPS agreed to record this data.
Emmanuelle Andrews, policy and campaigns manager at Liberty, said that young Black men are ‘particularly likely to be targeted by joint enterprise prosecutions, which unfairly sweep people into the criminal justice system – often on the basis of dubious evidence that young people were “in a gang”.’ ‘The increasing use of drill music videos as evidence of ‘gang’ affiliation is worrying, both because of the disproportionate impact it is likely to have on young Black men and boys, but also because it is likely to have a chilling effect on the freedom of young Black people to make art – particularly in a context where cuts to the arts have already made this kind of expression much harder. It’s crucial that we resist the moral panic around ‘gangs’ which is used to justify the harmful policing and punishment of young Black men and boys. We must also push back against the criminalisation of Black culture.’