A bill introduced earlier this year by South Los Angeles Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer may soon be signed into law in California. The bill would restrict the use of rap lyrics and other creative works as evidence in criminal proceedings. The bill has already passed both the State Senate and State Assembly. It will soon progress to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom for his signature, according to The New York Times.
The bill is specific to the state, but follows a national bill called the RAP Act introduced in Congress by two Black democratic congressmen, Hank Johnson of Georgia and Jamaal Bowman of New York.
It also follows the indictment of Atlanta rappers Young Thug and Gunna on gang-related RICO charges. Many of their lyrics have been cited by prosecutors.
The California bill would include other creative works including other types of music, poetry, film, dance, performance art, visual art and novels.
“What you write could ultimately be used against you, and that could inhibit creative expression,” Mr. Jones-Sawyer said Wednesday in an interview with the Times. He noted that the issue is a matter of freedom of the First Amendment. “This is America,” he said. “You should be able to have that creativity.”
Gov. Newsom’s office has not commented on whether he will sign the bill. He has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto it.
The bill will require a court to evaluate whether creative works can be included as evidence by weighing their “probative value” in the case against the “substantial danger of undue prejudice” that might result from including them. The court should also evaluate if the evidence could inject racial bias into the proceedings.
“People were going to jail merely because of their appearance,” Mr. Jones-Sawyer said. “We weren’t trying to get people off the hook. We’re just making sure that biases, especially racial biases toward African Americans, weren’t used against them in a court of law.”
In a statement in June, the Black Music Action Coalition said that prosecutors almost exclusively weaponize rap lyrics against Black people. “Creative expression should not be used as evidence of bad character,” the organization said, maintaining that the claim that themes expressed in art were an indication of the likelihood that a person was violent or dishonest was “simply false.”
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California May Be First State to Ban Use of Rap Lyrics in Court was originally published on hiphopwired.com
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