Court rules rapper’s lyrics, remake of N.W.A.’s “F– the Police”, is threat against cops on appeal
Jamal Knox, a 24-year-old Black rapper, was found guilty of making direct threats towards police in a new song by Pennsylvania’s highest court on Tuesday after an appeal.
The song is titled “F— the Police” and names two Pittsburgh police officers, Michael Kosko and Daniel Zeltner. The music video also features the officers’ pictures. A second rapper, Rashee Beasley, collaborated with Knox on the song. A third party connected to Beasley uploaded it onto Youtube. Both rappers were arrested by officers Kosko and Zeltner in 2012 on drug charges and were waiting for their pending charges when they wrote the song. Beasley’s charge has yet to be appealed.
The court found several of the song’s lyrics unprotected under the Constitution because they were a “true threat.”
Knox raps, “This first verse is for Officer Zeltner/Mr. Kosko/You keep on knocking my riches.”
Another lyric continues, “I’ma jam this rusty knife all in his guts and chop his feet/Like Poplawski, I’m strapped nasty.” The last line references a man who killed three Pittsburgh officers in 2009.
One of the last lyrics says, “Let’s kill these cops ’cause they don’t do us no good.”
The ruling by Cheif Justice Thomas G. Saylor concluded the violent lyrics are not protected speech under the First Amendment.
Clay Calvert, director of the University of Florida’s Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, told the Washington Post, “The decision highlights the need for the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve whether the First Amendment protects speech if there is no specific intent on the part of the speaker… to put the target in fear of imminent bodily harm or death.”
The court writes that while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit requires a “specific intent to threaten,” they ruled that the song was still a “constitutionally punishable threat.”
Court Justice Saylor reinforced that the specific song was intended to selectively target the named officers and was not a political commentary on the today’s police.
Erik Nielson, a University of Richmond associate professor, who has studied rap and legal courts, says that while most criminal proceedings deal with prosecutors using rap lyrics as additional evidence a defendant committed a crime, many cases are shifting the “crime” to the rap lyrics themselves.
The rappers exolain that the song was a rendition of NWA’s earlier popular protest hit “F– the Police”, and was meant to be a socio-political commentary on racist policing.
“I was disappointed with the decision,” Nielson said, adding, “I absolutely do not agree with it.”