Rap and reggae artists face new penalties for inciting homophobia

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Rap and reggae artists who use their song lyrics to incite people to kill and maim homosexuals face stiffer penalties under a new clampdown on homophobic crime.

Rap and reggae artists who use their song lyrics to incite people to kill and maim homosexuals face stiffer penalties under a new clampdown on homophobic crime.

In a week where black music culture has been blamed for rising gun violence, the Government is now planning a crackdown on lyrics that encourage attacks on gays. The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, wants judges to impose custodial sentences on offenders found guilty of stirring up hatred against the gay community.

Peers are now considering new laws that would make incitement to kill or maim homosexuals illegal, bringing homophobia in line with race crimes. The proposals will be debated this month when Lord Avebury's private member's bill is heard by the Attorney General. The measure is understood to have Government support.

In a letter to the Liberal peer, the Attorney General has said he will clamp down on lenient sentences handed out by judges in cases of homophobia. "If the occasion arises when I should refer a sentence for review involving homophobia then I will so refer," he states. He says that the writers of homophobic lyrics have been prosecuted under existing race hate laws, but only infrequently.

"It is an important step in raising the confidence of [the gay community] that the criminal justice system treats them fairly and equally, so that people will report crime and support prosecutions."

Gay rights campaigners are concerned about the increase in attacks and threats of violence against homosexuals, which they say has been fuelled by rap groups and Jamaican reggae artists releasing "homophobic anthems" urging people to burn, maim and kill gays. These include the group Tok whose reggae song Chi Chi Man human rights campaigners claim encourages the burning and killing of gay men.

Tok and two other artists using homophobic lyrics – Elephant Man and Capleton – were nominated last year for Music of Black Origin awards. Beenie Man, another Jamaican reggae singer, recorded the song Bad Man Chi Chi Man (Bad Man Queer Man), instructing listeners to kill gay disc jockeys.

Rappers such as P Diddy, DMX, 2Pac and Ice Cube have also been accused of homophobia. In his single "Criminal" in 2000, the white rapper Eminem sang: "Whether you're a fag or a lez, Or the homosex, hermaph or a trans-vest, Pants or dress – hate fags? The answer's yes."

A dossier of offending singers, lyrics and record companies is being sent to the Metropolitan police's hate crimes unit by OutRage!, the gay rights campaign group. It isdemanding that the police press charges under either the Public Order Act or the common law offence of incitement. Under the Race Relations Act, inciting racial hatred is a crime but there is no separate law prohibiting homophobic incitement.

Lord Avebury said radio stations should be more cautious about broadcasting homophobic songs. "I think a clampdown would make the broadcasters more cautious," he said. "People should be allowed to do anything they like but only as long as it does not cause harm to others."

Neil Fraser, a black record producer, said musicians had to take responsibility for influencing the young. "They see MTV and the average young person thinks 'yeah if I carry a gun and move some drugs then I'll be successful'," said Mr Fraser, who has worked with Massive Attack, UB40 and Sade. "Ignorance breeds ignorance – you've got people picking on queers when they have done nothing. I blame DJs."

Stonewall, the gay rights group, said it welcomed any clarity in the law which would defend a community's right not to be a target of hatred.

"The music industry has to start acting responsibly. What we are talking about in many of these songs is clear incitement to hatred and violence," said Sacha Deshmukh, Stonewall's director of parliamentary affairs.

Peter Tatchell, a spokesman for OutRage!, said this was the first attempt to secure a prosecution for inciting homophobic violence. "There is one law for blacks and another for gays," he said. "We agree these singers have a right to express their opinions, including the right to criticise homosexuality. But they do not have a right to urge the killing of lesbians and gay men."

'MPs know nothing about the streets'

The sounds of Jay-Z, So Solid and DMX were filling the dance floor of one of south London's most fashionable clubs late on Friday night.

But as Brixton's young black clubbing crowd eased into the rap music at the Fridge, they were angry it had been blamed by politicians for Britain's burgeoning gun culture.

"David Blunkett is an old fart. Rap music doesn't incite violence. Rock artists take drugs before they go on stage," Sophie Smith, 17, a student from Battersea, shouted above the music.

Lloyd Bailey, 21, from Dulwich, agreed. "People like [Culture minister Kim] Howells don't know the facts," he said. "He don't even know the streets. Most of them middle-class people have never even been on the streets. They don't know what's happening."

Last week, the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, and his colleague Kim Howells blamed rap lyrics for inciting violence following the deaths of Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespear, who were caught in crossfire outside a New Year's Eve party in Birmingham.

But as DJ Charmah spun the discs in Brixton, angry clubbers argued rap music was being made a scapegoat for the Government's failure to solve the social problems that lead to inner-city violence.

They pointed to the "apartheid" practised by many local authorities which puts young black youths in deprived inner-city areas, and the number of black boys excluded from schools for bad behaviour. Anyway, guns have been around in music since cowboys and Indians.

"You see violence in movies too," said Julian Jones, 17. And Tom Tikare, 20, added that most rappers sing about their life experiences and that words do not produce violence. Lloyd agreed that most rappers spoke about partying, rather than guns. But there was disagreement over claims that they were homophobic.

"Rap music does not encourage homophobia," said Dwayne Roy, 23, a bar worker. But Courtney Davis, 26, said that some in the black community do "fireburn", or verbally abuse, gay people. "Some artists burn it and some condone it," he said.

And, said Tom, some lyrics might be homophobic but "ministers jumped to conclusions too easily".

Shirin Aguiar

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