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Thu Apr 23, 2015, 12:30 PM

Treating Rhymes as Crimes: The War on Hip-Hop

Natl Coalition Against Censorship

As we wrap up National Poetry Month, here's a thought: Can what you write actually land you in prison? It sure can — especially if it takes the form of rap lyrics.

Hip-hop artists, legal scholars and free speech activists have been documenting a disturbing trend: Prosecutors taking rappers to court by asserting that the words on the page are connected to real-life crime — even in the absence of any other evidence. And they're doing it because it works.

Academics Charis Kubrin and Erik Nielson are watching the prosecution of rappers very closely, and they document dozens of court cases where rap lyrics were introduced as key evidence in criminal trials. In the 2014 journal article "Rap On Trial," they write that "prosecutors have become adept at convincing judges and juries alike that the lyrics are either autobiographical confessions of illegal behavior or evidence of a defendant's knowledge, motive or identity with respect to the alleged crime."

Some of the most notable cases, as reported in outlets like the Daily Beast and Huffington Post in recent weeks:

•Brandon Duncan -- also known as Tiny Doo — was charged under a California law intended to crack down on street gangs. Prosecutors claimed that Duncan was a member of a gang that was connected to several shootings, and that Duncan's lyrics — which talked about various criminal activities — showed that he was directly benefiting from the gang's crimes. No one has been arrested in connection with the actual shootings, but Duncan was being tried for having written songs that prosecutors claimed were linked to those crimes. Thankfully a San Diego Superior Court judge dismissed the charges
http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/mar/16/gang-conspiracy-dismissed-tiny-doo-harvey/ .

•* A California rapper named Laz Tha Boy — Deandre Mitchell — spent almost 2 years in jail after being indicted on charges linking him to two shootings. http://ncac.org/blog/treating-rhymes-as-crimes-the-war-on-hip-hop/#anchor

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