We have all heard about the illegality of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater, and learned last December that urging a crowd to set fire to a community amounts in some localities to inciting a riot, which is at minimum a misdemeanor. But can the publication of violent song lyrics be viewed as a crime so severe as to warrant a life sentence?
That is what a California prosecutor is arguing about the “creative output” of San Diego-based rapper Tiny Doo. The performer, whose real name is Brandon Duncan, has already spent eight months in prison as a result of a little-known California statute that makes it illegal to benefit from gang activities.
CNN’s Emma Lacey-Bordeaux writes:
The statute in question is California Penal Code 182.5. The code makes it a felony for anyone to participate in a criminal street gang, have knowledge that a street gang has engaged in criminal activity, or benefit from that activity.
It’s that last part — benefiting from criminal activity — that prosecutors are going after the rapper for.
Duncan faces nine counts of criminal street gang conspiracy because he and 14 other alleged gang members enhanced their stature and respect following a rash of shootings in 2013. Prosecutors point specifically to Doo’s album “No Safety” and to such lyrics as “Ain’t no safety on this pistol I’m holding” as examples of a “direct correlation to what the gang has been doing.”
Duncan has no criminal record, and no one is accusing him of directly pulling a trigger. Prosecutors maintain, however, that lyrics are not the only evidence they have. At Duncan’s preliminary hearing, they presented social media posts that they say show Duncan is an active gang member.
In the video that follows, Duncan tells CNN’s Don Lemon his lyrics merely paint “a picture of urban street life,” adding, “I’m not telling anybody to go out and kill somebody.”
“The problem” with the case, argues CNN legal analyst Mark Geragos, “is you’re going to run straight head-on into the First Amendment. If they don’t have anything other than the album, this case I don’t think would ever stand up.”