Are UK musicians being silenced for supporting Black Lives Matter?
This week, rappers Dutchavelli, Digga D and Lavida Loca described being threatened with recall for endorsing the movement. While authorities deny the claim, it raises questions about how confident people on probation feel about speaking out.
In recent weeks, huge crowds of people across the globe have been marching and campaigning in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Many UK musicians have chosen to use their social platforms to raise awareness of systemic racism and police brutality, and artists such as Stormzy, Dave, D Double E, Joy Crookes, Fekky and So Solid Crew’s Megaman are among those who’ve been spotted at protests in London.
Three London-based rappers have spoken out over the last week to claim that authorities have restricted their ability to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Digga D, Dutchavelli and Lavida Loca claim that they have received warnings of recall from the Metropolitan Police and probation services for showing public support for the movement. All three artists are on probation.
In a statement on Sunday, AIM award nominee Digga D said that he could no longer speak publicly about the Black Lives Matter movement for “inciting violence”. Digga D, a major artist in the UK drill scene whose hit single No Diet spent nine weeks in the top charts last year, was released from prison last month.
According to Digga D’s social media post, the Metropolitan Police had drawn issue with a photograph showing him holding a Black Lives Matter sign and have subsequently made the terms of the artist’s probation licence “worse than they already are”. Digga D implied that it was likely he would again be sanctioned under his probation terms for the statement.
A petition addressing Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has – at the time of writing – nearly reached 10,000 signatures. The petition requests an end to probation conditions which may infringe one’s right to freedom of expression, assembly and association in relation to Black Lives Matter.
In a statement given to The Face on 18th June, the Ministry of Justice – which is responsible for probation and prison services in the United Kingdom – said they are aware of these claims that have been made on social media. A representative from the Ministry of Justice said: “From our point of view, the petition is unnecessary, as those on licence won’t be recalled for attending [Black Lives Matter protests].” The representative informed The Face that while they do not speak on behalf of the Metropolitan Police, “nobody has been recalled [by probation services] for attending and nobody will be recalled for attending.”
The Ministry of Justice representative further claimed that “simply going to a protest wouldn’t be a breach of anyone’s licence conditions”, however, “if a person was due to go [to a protest] and there was credible intelligence that crimes would be committed or that crimes were planned to be committed, that would be a separate matter.”
On Monday, Stefflon Don shared a statement on Instagram on behalf of her brother, rising East London rapper Dutchavelli, which claimed that he is “currently wanted by the police”, for expressing in an Instagram livestream the previous week that he might attend a Black Lives Matter protest in London. Stefflon Don also wrote on Twitter that police had forcefully entered and “ransacked” her sister’s home, on a search.
In response to the news about Dutchavelli, Lavida Loca took to Twitter to share that she was also facing recall for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. While she didn’t attend a protest, Loca claimed on Twitter that she was “threatened” and received a warning from the Met after speaking out about the movement. [Update: Lavida Loca has shared a new statement, clarifying that she was warned she’d risk recall if she were to release some of her music or join a Black Lives Matter protest, as this could be deemed as “inciting violence”. Read her full statement below]
In a post on his own social media today, Dutchavelli wrote that his voicing his plans to attend a Black Lives Matter protest and spend time in the studio had put his “career and [his] freedom’ at risk.” After employing a legal team to help him in this situation, Dutchavelli says that he is “no longer an interest to the police”.
The Metropolitan Police has declined a request for comment from The Face, stating in an email that; “This wouldn’t be one for us given [it] is a probation issue.”
The comments The Face received from from the Ministry of Justice claim that – contrary to this week’s stories from Digga D, Dutchavelli and Lavida Loca – no one is at risk of recall for attending a Black Lives Matter protest, or announcing their plans to protest peacefully. But at the very least, this week’s events have inspired fresh conversations about how political statements from those on probation are perceived, and how those people might feel held back from supporting Black Lives Matter.
As the description in the petition argues, “Everyone deserves freedom of speech their voice should not be hushed!”
Lavida Loca’s statement:
“I’m currently on a license after leaving prison in 2018. Since my release I’ve continued to turn my life around & make change, having ZERO trouble with the police since being back in the community. I have been making music since last year and since then I’ve been faced with nothing but a lot of amazing opportunities and have always made probation aware of my musical journey, to which they seemed pleased. The BLACK LIVES MATTER movement began May 25th when George Floyd was killed. I was informed by my solicitor on June 10th that my probation officer has now said that my music is inciting violence & that if probation feel that I continue to do so, it will lead to an immediate recall, which was strange to me considering there’s a lot of male rappers on license whose rap content is like mine & also the fact that I’ve been making music nearly a year prior, to which they’ve heard ALL of and evidently has caused no trouble, so why now? I was then also immediately informed that protesting is also being deemed as “inciting violence” too and to be careful of any consequences I could face fighting this cause as the BLM protest was organised for the same Saturday of 13th June. This left me with no choice but to NOT speak on this anymore and NOT attend due to the fear of going back to prison. The timeline of events doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me and it just reminded me of the experiences I’ve had with the system where they’ve taken advantage of their enforcement powers in order to set us backwards. Due to this I have been reluctant to speak on the Black Lives Matter movement on my platform, which is heartbreaking as a young black woman that this is ONLY down to fear of the system.”