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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 17:50 GMT
Rap music and crime
Machine pistol
No argument, no mitigating circumstances - the government wants to end judges' discretion and impose a mandatory jail sentence of five years for gun crime. The current average sentence is only 18 months.

Meanwhile figures due out are expected to show a steep increase in firearms offences. There were, in fact, a total of 9000 such incidents for the whole of last year. That's up 55% over the past five years.

But the government is being criticised on two counts. First that the proposals are a knee jerk reaction to the New Year killings and woundings in Birmingham, and secondly that they are making a dangerous link between guns and black rap music without any evidence.

In particular the Culture minister Kim Howells warned that black rap musicians were creating a culture in which killing was almost a fashion accessory.

Kirsty Wark spoke to the Home Office Minister, the Editor of 'Mixmag' and a member of Peckham Positive Project.

KIRSTY WARK:
In a moment I will be talking to Mohammed Kabia from the Peckham Positive Project and Viv Craske, the Editor of Mixmag. First, John Denham, let's talk about culture connections in a moment. First of all, this proposal for a mandatory sentencing, will five years mean five years with no chance of an early release of parole right across the board?

JOHN DENHAM:
It will be a sentence of five years. We expect the judgements, if Parliament adopts it, to reflect that. Whether there is going to be remissions as there is with other sentencing, that will rely on the court system and the prison system, but the sentence has clearly got to be five years. At the moment, most people who are convicted of the illegal possession of a firearm don't get any custodial sentence. The small minority who do have an average of only 18 months sentence which means they serve far less than 18 months. A minimum five year sentence, passed by the court is what we must have to send a deterrent into the system.

WARK:
Every case? You might have someone who has a gun given in the last 30 seconds they get five years?

DENHAM:
We have to be clear. We are sending a message into the system that will change the culture of carrying guns in the casual way, the fashion accessory way described in your film. Having a mandatory minimum sentence on indictment for carrying guns is absolutely necessary to do that.

WARK:
That is across the board? There will be no digressing from that at all?

DENHAM:
The only area where we think there needs to be some discretion, if you are talking about technical regulatory offences, of which there could be some sort, people carrying guns should know there will be this sentence. We have to get that message into the system.

WARK:
Isn't that going to lead to more problems in the prison. The Lord Chancellor is saying the prison system at the moment is insupportable?

DENHAM:
It's there for two reasons, persistent offenders who won't change their ways and those who are a threat to the public. No-one is going to deny, surely after the events of recent days, that people who carry guns casually and are prepared to use them casually are a danger to the public that is what prisons are for?

WARK:
Have you prison space?

DENHAM:
We have to accommodate people who are a threat to the public. First time offenders with drug problems who have not been violent or doing burglary to feed a drug problem, there are better ways of dealing with people than giving them short-term prison sentences. People who are a threat to community, that is what prison is for .

WARK:
If part of the problem is the threat that guns pose, then why not ban replica guns straightaway?

DENHAM:
We know we have to take action on replica guns and air weapons, we will be bringing proposals in its near future .

WARK:
What is your reaction to the association of chief police officers to have an amnesty?

DENHAM:
That is something they are considering. I would welcome it if they believe it would be effective in getting guns handed in.

WARK:
Let's move on to the possible cultural connections. Kim Howells talked about macho idiot rappers. Do you believe that to be the case? Do you think there is a connection?

DENHAM:
I think it's very difficult to say that there is a cause and effect here. I think there is no doubt...

WARK:
Is she wrong?

DENHAM:
There is no doubt there are aspects of the popular music in the black community which does reflect, to many outsiders, seems to glorify the use of guns. I think the most important thing now is to make sure we strengthen the voices of those people in the black community who want to turn their backs on gun culture and make sure they are heard strongly. If that is backed up by people producing rap music within the community with different types of lyrics then so much the better.

WARK:
This is a fellow minister. This government is divided over this?

DENHAM:
There is a debate that this music is causing...

WARK:
David Blunkett also said those who made music who glamorise gun violence should be made aware of what is and what isn't acceptable? What is going to be done about this?

DENHAM:
David is saying that what we need to do is strengthen the voice of those in the black community who want to reject gun culture. I think it's worth and right to challenge those people who are producing music. Those people who are producing lyrics that appear to glorify or reflect the gun culture. I'm not sure we can prove there is cause and effect here. The more the popular culture in the communities suffering from gun crime reflects a positive view that rejects gun violence, the better.

WARK:
Don't you run the danger of causing further alienation. You heard people saying in that film that the problem is alienation, social deprivation?

DENHAM:
We have to tackle social deprivation. The people who young black people are going to listen to aren't going to be myself or Kim Howells, but other people in the community and what we must do in government is support the voices within the community who want to challenge gun culture.

WARK:
First of all do Viv Craske do you think there is a link?

VIV CRASKE:
No. Kym Howells won't be listened to by the community. What he said is racist, out of touch and bigoted. It shows how out of touch with culture he is. Music doesn't perpetuate gun violence. Groups like So Solid are talking about the situation in which they grew up. It's social deprivation that causes gun crime.

WARK:
Hold on. A member of So Solid Crew went to jail for 18 months for possessing a loaded shot gun, no-one put that in his hand.

CRASKE:
Yes, obviously there are people hat are, you're going to get that everywhere. It's a factor of social deprivation and the places in which they grew up, it's music, its not the fact that he's a rapper that he had a gun. He's a rapper and he happened to have a gun.

WARK:
Mohammed Kabia do you think it's as easy to dismiss that connection?

MOHAMMED KABIA:
No, I don't think so. I think the situation here is these poor young guys are being made scapegoats of an insidious institutional side of (?). The ethos of our whole culture is actually to subscribe to violence. We are planning to go and bomb the hell of the Iraqi poor people and kill them because we believe violence is the solution. That is the same thing. The music industry has the responsibility to make sure that we don't perpetuate violence as a solution to problems. There are a lot of black people, decent black people out there, who do not subscribe to violence. The point is to make So Solid Crew's issue, to magnify it, as a reflection of the entire black. It is very unfortunate and irresponsible. I believe that there are solutions, as the minister said, you know, to solve the problem of gun crime in the black community we need to reach out to community leaders.

WARK:
Let's take the issue of music at the moment. There is a form of censorship in music. If there are explicit lyrics it's mentioned on the front, you can't incite racial hatred on music. You can't blaspheme, as it where. So, do you think that there should be censorship for lyrics that elude to gun violence, as David Blunkett thinks there will be in the future, not necessarily censorship but discussions?

KABIA:
Of course there should be. There is censorship in the film industry. I think the music industry has a responsibility to guide its youngsters. These guys came from nowhere and found themselves being famous and maybe it got over their heads. You can't get into a car with a drunk. You know that person is drunk, but you can't say I don't care because it's not your responsibility. So Solid Crew has a responsibility for themselves as well.

WARK:
Do you think that there should be censorship of lyrics?

CRASKE:
I don't see the point. It's an age old argument. Censorship in culture has always been there. I don't see it solving anything. If gun crime is up 55% it can't be down to music in any part. If music was that powerful to make someone pick up a gun and shoot someone the government would use it.

WARK:
If guns are on the streets rather than off the streets is there not a greatly likelihood that the rapper in Brixton who was talking about the fact that guns are as prevalent as getting a mobile phone?

CRASKE:
Yes they are easy to get hold off, but you have to be that sort of person that wants to buy a gun. I don't accept that it's a fashion accessory for everyone, it's an accessory for the kind of person who is brought up in a culture who believes that's its right thing to do. That number of people will only increase with an increase in social deprivation.

KABIA:
That is also pampering to cultural stereotypes. Someone brought up in a concern culture. You are resonating a racial tension. It's part the responsibility in the music industry. As at the same time it's an institutionalised system, where in society we actually propagate violence in the form of the music industry, the media, the television even the government's attitude into combating violence in our society. It's a knee jerk reaction. One minute we lock up people for five years for a gun and we are prepared to bomb the hell out of somebody else. What I am saying is there is a need to address this issue. It's a serious issue. I'm concerned as a black community leader. I play an important role with the Peckham Positive Project, which is a voluntary organisation which mentors young people and dissuades them away from crime .

WARK:
I wonder what you would make of what David Blunkett said today, that there is a culture of deep anger in some areas of the black community and a lack of male role models. Diane Abbot echoed that. What do you think about that?

KABIA:
That is the tip of the iceberg. The problem itself is intrinsic, because there has been a history of neglect in the black community and also the successful leaders or the black role models, the leaders like the members of Parliament or the civic leaders, some of them try to make an effort. Then they don't have the support from the central government. It's all put towards the frame work and the legal system that pays dividend to the solicitors, basically, at the end of the day .

WARK:
Thank you both very much indeed.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

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 ON THIS STORY
Kirsty Wark
asked Home Office minister John Denham what evidence he had that "macho idiot rappers" cause killings.

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