In this woke era of ours people get fired all the time for what they say. This is considered a good thing on the left.
But now Governor Gavin Newsom has signed legislation to insure that rappers’ words can’t be held against them in criminal proceedings, making California the first state in the nation to adopt such a law, which is also being pushed on the federal level.
In signing AB 2799 by Assemblyman Reggie Jones Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act, Gov. Newsom said, “Artists of all kind should be able to create without the fear of unfair and prejudicial prosecution. California’s culture and entertainment industry set trends around the world, and it’s fitting that our state is taking a nation-leading role to protect creative expression and ensure that artists are not criminalized under biased policies.”
The governor spoke on a zoom call where he was joined by rappers Meek Mill, Too $hort, E-40, Killer Mike, YG, Ty Dolla $ign and Tyga.
AB 2799 was unanimously approved by the California Assembly and Senate this August.
Assemblyman Jones said in a statement, “We should not stymie the creative expression of artists. Unfortunately, racial biases play a role when talking about musical genres. Rap music lyrics share many similarities to that of other musical categories yet are singled out by the judicial system to [characterize] an artist. AB 2799 would disallow prosecutors from triggering racial biases or reinforcing racial stereotypes and it gives judges guidance on the use of creative expression in court.”
The law requires “a court, in a criminal proceeding where a party seeks to admit as evidence a form of creative expression, to consider specified factors when balancing the probative value of that evidence against the substantial danger of undue prejudice.”
In other words it gives judges wide latitude to exclude rapper’s own words even when that language can speak to intent and criminality or even reference specific acts they may have committed.
The law applies to all forms of artistic expression—”“performance art, visual art, poetry, literature, film, and other media.”– but focuses specifically on rap music.
“It is the intent of this Legislature to provide a framework by which courts can ensure that the use of an accused person’s creative expression will not be used to introduce stereotypes or activate bias against the defendant, nor as character or propensity evidence; and to recognize that the use of rap lyrics and other creative expression as circumstantial evidence of motive or intent is not a sufficient justification to overcome substantial evidence that the introduction of rap lyrics creates a substantial risk of unfair prejudice. “
The law says prosecutors can only try to introduce “creative expression” as evidence if the “expression is created near in time to the charged crime or crimes, bears a sufficient level of similarity to the charged crime or crimes, or includes factual detail not otherwise publicly available.”
But even if those criteria are met the evidence can be excluded if the judge finds that it would “introduce racial bias into the proceedings.”
So hard core evidence of criminality can be excluded if the speaker is black?
Upon Newsom signing of the legislation, recording industry executive Harry Mason Jr. said, “Today we celebrate an important victory for music creators in the state of California. Silencing any genre or form of artistic expression is a violation against all music people. The history that’s been made in California today will help pave the way forward in the fight to protect creative freedom nationwide.”
The legislation was sparked by the controversy when the rapper Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Lamar Williams, was indicted on criminal gang charges in Atlanta in May and his lyrics were cited as evidence. According to the indictment, Williams, along with 27 other people in a gang called Slime Life “conspired to associate together and with others for the common purposes of illegally obtaining money and property through a pattern of racketeering activity and conducting and participating in the enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity.”
Prosectuors allege that over a roughly ten year period the gang committed multiple murders and car jackings and that Williams promoted the gang through his music.
Rap lyrics quoted in the indictment, described as “overt acts” of criminality, included him saying “ I’m prepared to take them down,” “murder gang shit,” “I never killed anybody but I got something to do with that body” and “I killed his man in front of his momma.”
At a press conference announcing the indictment Fulton County District Attorney Fanni Willis said the First Amendment should not be a shield for criminality–something California legislators and Newsom clearly don’t understand.
“I believe in the First Amendment; it’s one of our most precious rights,” she explained.”However the First Amendment does not protect people from prosecutors using [lyrics] as evidence if it is such. In this case, we put it as overt and predicate acts within the [racketeering] count because we believe that’s exactly what it is.”
The future happens in California first. With @JonesSawyerAD59, we are preventing the use of artists' creative content in court without judicial review.
— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) October 4, 2022
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