Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Gangsta Rap Lyrics as Evidence of Guilt?

Today, the New York Times caught up with what Professors Donald Tibbs and Andrea Dennis have been talking about, even sounding a warning bell against, for years.  In the Times story "Legal Debate on Using Boastful Rap Lyrics as a Smoking Gun," reporter Lorne Manly describes the growing trend amongst prosecutors across the nation to use gangsta rap lyrics in charging crimes and trying young black men primarily for crimes allegedly committed based on gangsta rap lyrics scribed by the young men charged.

Manly writes of the "more than three dozen prosecutions in the past two years in which rap lyrics have played prominent roles. The proliferation of cases has alarmed many scholars and defense lawyers, who say that independent of a defendant’s guilt or innocence, the lyrics are being unfairly used to prejudice judges and juries who have little understanding that, for all its glorification of violence, gangsta rappers are often people who have assumed over-the-top and fictional personas."

This story shines a spotlight on this "new," yet age-old practice of discriminatory prosecution, where primarily white prosecutors are seeking to convict primarily young men of color for hip hop lyrics used as evidence of guilt, when musical genres of all types engage in the same sort of specific violent and profane lyrics.  Of course, rock, country, and metal receive no attention from law enforcement, but instead are viewed as first amendment expression, rather than literal behavior. Manly writes "Those who oppose the use of the lyrics say prosecutors have singled out rap as a literal evocation of reality when the lyrics in other musical genres have long been acknowledged as fictional."