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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Art or Threat? Or Sleeping Giant on our Doorstep? Freedom of Speech Watch

Does This Kid Deserve 2 Years for Rap Lyrics? - Page 1 - The Daily Beast
Anita Allen writes:

Soon after Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates was arrested after mouthing off to the police, charges of disorderly conduct against the feisty African-American professor were dropped like a hot potato in a firestorm of racial controversy. But consider the fate another African-American signifier who mouthed off to the police—this one, a hot-headed 20-year-old who, two weeks ago, was handed a two-year prison sentence for some rap lyrics he wrote when he was a teenager.

For all the protection afforded by the First Amendment, the constitution doesn’t protect dangerous and offensive speech absolutely.

Antavio Johnson wrote “Kill Me a Cop,” a rap song threatening to murder two police officers he said had harassed him. The song announced: “Im'ma kill me a cop one day.” It called out two specific officers—one male, one female—by name, both of the Lakeland, Florida Police Department, both of whom would be shot with a “Glock” in the “dome” if they ever “get my timing wrong.”

A couple years later, Lakeland detectives researching gang life on the internet found Johnson’s song on a MySpace page belonging to an entity called Hood Certified Entertainment. Already in jail for violating probation on a cocaine conviction, the now 20-year-old Johnson was convicted on two counts of a weirdly titled crime he had probably never heard of: “corruption by threat of public servant.”

Section 838.021of the Florida Statutes makes it a third-degree felony to harm or threaten to harm public servants, their families or the people they care about. The statute, which is designed to deter corruption and punish extortion, requires that threats be made "with the intent or purpose" to influence public servants' performance of their official responsibilities. In a 2007 case a disorderly man was prosecuted under the statute for repeatedly asking to see the badges of undercover officers, but acquitted. In a 2008 case, another disorderly Florida man was prosecuted and acquitted under the statute, this one a DUI arrestee in handcuffs who threatened to slit the arresting officer's throat and beat his "ass" if the officer were to free him. The court concluded that the man's threats lacked the requisite intent to influence the officer. Merely threatening the life of an officer, even to his face, is not enough for conviction.

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