Can an ambiguous California law created in 2000 turn rap lyrics into evidence for conviction?
Recently an African American rapper and Southern California resident is currently behind bars awaiting trial. The rapper in question, Brandon Duncan a.k.a. Tiny Doo, is facing life in prison not for rape, drug trafficking, or murder, but for the lyrical content of his latest album No Safety.
Duncan, along with 14 other gang members are currently in jail due to a series of attempted murders in April of 2013. Duncan has not been linked to the shootings. If he is not a suspect, then why is he currently facing the possibility of life in prison? Duncan is the first victim of a California law passed in 2000 that states gang members can be prosecuted if they somehow “benefit” from crimes committed by other gang members. That’s right, Duncan is now being charged with conspiracy because he is a known gang member who raps about that lifestyle and that alone is enough to try to put him away for the rest of his life. Despite the fact that there are no specific references to the April 2013 shootings and no lyrics provoking listeners to go commit acts of violence, Tiny Doo is still able to be held in jail awaiting trial alongside fellow gang members who are actual shooting suspects.
Hip-Hop is a genre of music that prides itself on authentic storytelling, “keeping it real” within the music, and serving as a legal means of making capital through artistic self-expression. The fact that a rapper, who has known gang ties and is not out committing crimes, but actually making music, can be tried alongside actual suspects in a criminal matter is shocking, but not the least bit surprising. The criminal justice system thrives on Black and Brown bodies who serve as the industries lifeblood. If there are is a need to fill prisons there will definitely be no shortage of bodies if this obscure 2000 law succeeds in putting a man in prison for life because of his associates. The more ways young Black and Brown people devise plans to stay out of prison (i.e. rap and Hip-Hop); there is an equally acrimonious plan to get us inside.
This wrongful arrest is proof positive of the plan to criminalize Hip-Hop culture by any means necessary. From the style of dress (saggin’ pants) to now the lyrical content of your art are all in question and act as possible means to get one locked up or shot dead especially and specifically if you’re a Black or Brown male. The 14th amendment to the United States Constitution granted citizenship to all Blacks, so that means we in theory should be protected by the 1st amendment which is the freedom of speech. The case against Brandon Duncan is in direct contradiction to the aforementioned amendment. The message behind Duncan’s case is eerily reminiscent of Chief Justice Roger Taney’s remarks in the wake of the Dred Scott case when he declared that black men “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
How far will the long arm of white supremacy stretch in order to creatively impede on the lives of Black and Brown men and ultimately Black and Brown communities? What new and clever ways will the justice system devise in order to criminalize Hip-Hop culture and to a larger extent Black and Brown culture? In Canadian rap super star Drake’s 2010 debut album Thank Me Later, his song “Thank Me Now” references his crew as the “O.V.O. Clique, Red Wing Boot Gang.” Because Drake describes himself and his friends as a gang, if one of them were to ever commit a criminal act can Drake now be charged, incarcerated, deported, or possibly some combination of all three? The possibilities of using the 2000 law in this manner are harrowing, unconstitutional, and further serves as yet another testament to the continued and intentional devaluation of Hip-Hop, while simultaneously promoting the trope of Black men as criminal and other. So long for spittin’ hard bars in your raps if you can end up behind them and say goodbye to rapping if it can grant you a rap sheet.