RAPPER’S LYRICS RULED TRUE THREATS, NOT PROTECTED BY THE FIRST AMENDMENT
Steven T. Lowe
On August 21, 2018, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that lyrics by rapper Jamal Knox (p/k/a “Mayhem Mal”)(“Knox”) involving killing cops was not protected speech under the First Amendment because they “crossed the line from artistic expression to a ‘true threat.’”
The Supreme Court found the existence of terroristic threats and witness intimidation when Knox appeared in a video and specifically targeted (i.e., threatened bodily harm) a Pittsburgh Police office and detective who had arrested him on drug charges in 2012.
Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor for the majority wrote: “They [lyrics] do not merely address grievances about police-community relations or generalized animosity toward the police. They do not include political, social, or academic commentary, nor are they facially satirical or ironic…specifically naming the officers who had arrested Knox and repeating the various ways he would target them ‘stand in conflict with the contention that the song was meant to be understood as fiction.’”
The court held that the lyrics calling the officers out by name, referring to the drugs and money they seized from Knox, and implying Knox knew when the officers’ shifts ended and where they slept all pointed to specific threats, not just fiction or fantasy.
The case is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Knox, case number 3 WAP 2017, in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
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