End form 696

'Form 696' Sums Up Everything Wrong with the Police

Pre-emptive policing has always been used to crack down on counter-culture, only this time there's a whole new racist angle.
March 31, 2017, 2:35pm

(Top photo: Giggs. Screen shot: BBC Radio 1Xtra / YouTube, via)

When Peckham rapper Giggs was battling a gun charge in 2012, the Crown Prosecution Service tried to use his lyrics about wearing a black bandana as "proof" he was gang-affiliated. He beat the case. On one such track – 2008's "Intro (Black Bandana Town)" – Giggs raps: "Promoters on the feds' dick / went and banned me from the show / they're against it."

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Here, he's talking about Form 696, a Met Police document which demands the names, private addresses and phone numbers of all artists at live shows "predominantly featur[ing] DJs or MCs performing to a recorded backing track" – mostly black and Asian artists, in other words. Until 2009 the form specifically cited bashment, R&B and garage, and asked for an ethnic breakdown of the crowd. Unbelievably, some police forces outside the capital still require this. The police have used 696 to shut down scores of shows, including many headlined by Giggs, arguing they are "high risk" events, but providing no further evidence.

The "pre-emptive policing" of Form 696 is dystopian, going beyond thought-crime into identity-crime as it launches a thinly-veiled, racialised assault on the "underground voice of the black youth". The form was introduced in 2006, but there's plenty of precedent for this totalitarian style of policing.

For decades, pre-emptive police measures have specifically and viciously targeted counter-cultural art and protest. "You can draw a direct line from the 1985 Battle of the Beanfield – when police came down hard on a hippy gathering at Stonehenge – [to] the Public Order Act of 1986 and the Criminal Justice [Act]," Frankie Mullin wrote for VICE, describing the infamous 1994 ruling banning public events playing music "characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats".

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Gurning crowds of travellers, activists and ravers stormed through London three times in the summer of 1994 to protest the Act, culminating in heavy-handed police brutality at the Battle of Park Lane.

The Criminal Justice crackdown on illegal raves was inspired by a marathon 1992 session in Castlemorton, when an estimated 40,000 ravers gathered for a week of bliss in the Worcestershire hills. But grime was never allowed to get to this stage: beset by police harassment whenever it threatened to reach a wider audience, every inch of the mainstream success the genre has now achieved has been bitterly fought for.


WATCH: Form 696 – The Police Vs Grime Music


As grime's illegality in its early pirate radio days gave it potency and legitimacy, so free rave culture's very existence was a "pre-emptive protest" against power structures. And as the police used the absurd "repetitive beats" clause to beat back the rising tide of 1990s free-party culture, so Form 696 is used today.

The half-decade between grime's initial decline and subsequent renaissance was a fallow period for Britain's musical counter-culture. In these years, pre-emptive mass arrests were increasingly used to target activists and protesters. Just days after Ian Tomlinson was killed by a police officer's baton blow at the 2009 G20 summit protests, 114 climate-change activists were arrested before a planned action against a coal power-plant in Nottingham. Every single one was released without charge.

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Civil rights campaigners were appalled. The pre-emptive arrest of peaceful protesters during the Royal Wedding – at the "Queer Resistance Zombie Picnic" – sparked a similar outcry, which rumbled all the way to a Supreme Court case in February of 2017. (The protesters lost.)

This is the kind of city the Met wants: one in which the norm is left undisturbed. So for all their apparent differences, Giggs and the giggling revellers at the Queer Resistance Zombie Picnic both create essential ruptures in the deafening silence of the capital's cultural hegemony.

The Met's ultimately unsuccessful attempts to block Giggs' road to artistic success – not only using Form 696 to shut down his shows, but actually threatening the record label which signed him – are revealing. By using pre-emptive policing tactics like those associated with political protest, they betray an understanding that grime is inherently politicised, counter-cultural and threatening to the status quo.

The Met were overwhelmed by the riots which broke out in August of 2011 following their execution of unarmed black man Mark Duggan, defeated by what Statewatch called "the simple refusal of the rioters to treat protest as something that is required by the police to be "pre-planned'."

The response was draconian. A red-faced establishment handed down six-month jail sentences for stealing £3.50 cases of water, tooled up with new weaponry and copied tactics used to repress Irish resistance during the Troubles. Significantly, at the student fees protests in autumn of 2011, new pre-emptive measures were introduced, as the Met issued warnings to known activists ahead of any actual disruption and pre-authorised the use of baton rounds.

That said, pilled-up 90s ravers, Russell Group Trotskyists and grime artists all experience pre-emptive policing in very different ways. A better comparison in the case of 696 could be made with the government's counter-terror PREVENT strategy, condemned by experts and community leaders alike as ineffectual, illiberal and racist. In both cases, members of a "suspicious" demographic find the tiniest details are taken as an excuse for police harassment – a Palestine badge, a drawing of a cucumber, a black bandana.

This needs to be brought to an end. Form 696 is racist, draconian and representative of everything wrong with British police. No reasonable justification has been offered for its use, and it's unlikely one ever will be – there's more trouble at house nights and high street pubs than any modern day grime shows, so good luck sharing an explanation that any rational-minded person is going to agree with.

In the first verse of Black Bandana Town, Giggs accuses the Met of obstructing his path off the streets, rapping: "This is blatantly petty crime / Throw me down a contract, let me get it signed." It doesn't seem too much to ask.

@hashtagbroom