Rep. Jamaal Bowman says using rappers lyrics against them in the courtroom ‘is a racial justice issue’
Written by B87FM on September 25, 2023
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Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman of New York discussed his plans to prevent prosecutors from having free reign to use rap lyrics in the courtroom to criminalize rappers during the Congressional Black Caucus 52nd Annual Legislative Conference.
On Friday, Bowman held a conversation with music executive Willie “Prophet” Stiggers, Kevin Liles, chief executive officer of 300 Entertainment, industry attorney Shay M. Lawson and the co-authors of the 2019 book, “Rap on Trial,” professors Andrea L. Dennis and Erik Nielson, to discuss why the Restoring Artistic Protection Act — or RAP Act — is essential.
“Artists in general should not be criminalized because of their art,” Bowman told theGrio, “and since rap artists are artists, they need to be treated as such.”
“They fall into the same First Amendment protection rights as every other artist or American falls under,” he said.
“This is a racial justice issue because most rappers are African-American and/or Latino, and so it belongs in a CBC conversation,” Bowman added. “It belongs as a part of the ALC.”
Dennis told theGrio: “There should be some sort of legislation to prohibit or at least potentially restrict rap lyrics from being admitted” as evidence in a court case.
She added that the legal system is not “race neutral,” therefore Black artists need certain legal protections like the RAP Act.
“[The act] is an effort to try to counteract what is happening in thousands of cases that don’t receive much attention, if any attention at all, from reporters, from the legal system, etc.,” she said.
The legislation was reintroduced by Bowman and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) last session and aimed to stop prosecutors from unfairly using rap lyrics to incriminate rappers, as theGrio previously reported.
The introduction of the RAP Act came months after rapper Young Thug was arrested for RICO charges for his alleged participation in a Georgia street gang. The judge presiding over Thug’s case read lyrics from several of his songs in the courtroom as evidence to paint him as a criminal.
Bowman emphasized to theGrio: “This is a racial justice issue.”
“This is a free speech issue. Rappers are being targeted because they’re Black, and that is not how our justice system is supposed to work,” he said.
Bowman told theGrio he wants audience members to familiarize themselves with the RAP Act.
“I want them to know what’s in the bill, how they can be helpful in getting the legislation passed in Congress,” he said.
“I want to share some of the prejudicial aspects of what’s been happening over the last decade with rappers being targeted versus [artists] of other genres of music,” Bowman noted, “and hopefully, get them inspired to plug into our democracy and get more involved.”
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