A high-profile criminal case involving Hip Hop artists and their lyrics is playing out in Fulton County, Georgia at the moment. Jeffery “Young Thug” Williams and Sergio “Gunna” Kitchens both face racketeering charges in the state.
Authorities indicted Young Thug on Conspiracy to Violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and Participation in Criminal Street Gang Activity. The YSL leader also faces weapons and drug charges. Prosecutors hit Gunna with one count of a RICO violation.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis plans to use songs by Young Thug and Gunna as evidence against the defendants. Willis claims lyrics by the YSL recording artists back up the prosecution’s belief that both rappers took part in gang activity.
“I believe in the First Amendment, it’s one of our most precious rights,” said Fani Willis at a press conference in May. “However, the First Amendment does not protect people from prosecutors using it as evidence if it is such. In this case, we put it as overt and predicate acts within the RICO count, because we believe that’s exactly what it is.”
Ari Melber Addresses The Racial Disparities When It Comes To Lyrics Used As Evidence
MSNBC Chief Legal Correspondent Ari Melber covered Young Thug and Gunna’s case during an episode of The Beat. Melber also focused on how the court system treats African-American musicians and Caucasian musicians when it comes to “fictional evidence.”
“Prosecutors do not typically treat white people’s art in America as criminal evidence. It didn’t happen to Johnny Cash who was arrested seven times,” stated Melber. He continued, “It didn’t happen to Jack Sparrow, government-name Johnny Depp, in a case that was about violence. It didn’t happen to Eric Clapton who was arrested for drugs.”
The 42-year-old lawyer/journalist added, “No, when many of these white artists ran into the law, past or recent, their artistic fiction is treated as fiction. While right now, prosecutors are treating fiction by prominent Black artists as if it were fact.”
“Rap Music On Trial” Has Become A Political Issue
Prosecutors across the nation have attempted to use rappers’ lyrical content in court for years. Cases involving Kidd Kidd, Drakeo the Ruler, and Tay-K became national news. The New York State Senate recently passed the “Rap Music on Trial” bill. Hip Hop stars like Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter assisted in that effort.
In 2014, the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned aspiring rapper Vonte Skinner’s attempted murder conviction. The 6-0 decision ruled presenting Skinner’s lyrics at his trial was “highly prejudicial” and “bore little or no probative value.”
“One would not presume that Bob Marley, who wrote the well-known song ‘I Shot the Sheriff,’ actually shot a sheriff, or that Edgar Allan Poe buried a man beneath his floorboards, as depicted in his short story ‘The Tell-Tale Heart,’ simply because of their respective artistic endeavors on those subjects. The Court reasons that defendant’s lyrics should receive no different treatment,” wrote Justice Jaynee LaVecchia.