Absurd California Bill Would Ban Rap Lyrics at Trials

September 15, 2022 Updated: September 15, 2022

Commentary

Sometimes you wonder if anyone is serious in the California Legislature. On Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for signature or veto sits Assembly Bill 2799, introduced by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles). It passed unanimously in both the Assembly and Senate, with no Republican opposition. It would ban rap lyrics being used by prosecutors at a trial without a judge’s approval.

But consider some other cases. The Beatles song “Helter Skelter” drove mass-murder Charles Manson to believe he could start a race war by murdering actress Sharon Tate and four others in 1969.

J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” inspired Mark David Chapman to murder Beatle John Lennon in 1980, and John Hinckley, Jr.’s attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981.

After Stephen King’s novel “Rage” inspired students to shoot up their schools, he took it out of print.

The killers in the 1999 Columbine High School mass murders code-named their atrocity “NBK,” after the 1994 Oliver Stone-Quentin Tarantino film “Natural Born Killers,” about two psychos who go on a killing spree.

There are earlier examples of art inspiring killings. Goethe’s “Young Werther” and Shakespeare’s “Rome and Juliet” sparked suicides. Richard Wagner’s operas inspired Hitler’s racial obsessions, leading to genocide.

Art, whether high or low, is part of being human. It can inspire people to be good or bad. The First Amendment protects free speech, so even the worst of it can’t be banned, with only a few exceptions. There also is a general derision of “bowdlerizing” works, meaning modifying them so they don’t offend, as occurred in Victorian England. Although Hollywood remakes nowadays actually do that as well, so as not to offend the tender consciences of viewers.

Rap lyrics obviously ought to be admissible in a court trial without a judge’s approval. If it has no bearing on the matter at hand, a judge always can throw it out. Appeals also are available.

Supposedly, AB 2799 is needed because admitting rap lyrics into a trial discriminates against black defendants. CalMatters reported:

As early as 1991, prosecutors have used rap lyrics both to reveal a defendant’s mindset and as confessionals: They wanted juries to believe that rappers quite literally did the things they were rapping about.

In the 2000s, Louisiana prosecutors repeatedly used the lyrics of New Orleans rappers against them in murder trials, including Corey Miller, McKinley Phipps Jr. and, most recently, Torrence Hatch, who raps as Lil Boosie.

Nationwide, researchers have found approximately 500 cases of lyrics—almost always rap—introduced in state or federal trials.

Ok, let’s look at New Orleans. Tucker Carlson reported on Aug. 23 on what the city has become because of runaway, un-prosecuted violence. Carjackings occur an average of once every hour.

According to other data, New Orleans in the first half of 2022 led the country in per-capita murders, with 36.8 per 100,000 people.

And “reformers” want to handicap prosecutors by making it harder to convict the murderers?

AB 2799 actually isn’t just about rap lyrics. The Assembly Floor Analysis says the bill “[d]efined a ‘creative expression’ as the expression or application of creativity or imagination in the production or arrangement of forms, sounds, words, movements, or symbols, including, but not limited to, music, dance, performance art, visual art, poetry, literature, film, and other such objects or media.”

The Floor Analysis describes one case in which an “expert also claimed that the defendant’s display of a ‘B’ hand symbol proved his affiliation with the Broad Day gang. The article notes that former President Bill Clinton, Golden State Warrior Steph Curry, actor William Shatner, and singer Beyonce Knowles have all been pictured making the same exact hand symbol and are not known members of the Broad Day gang. Sadly, the defendant in this case was convicted of murder with enhancements for gang activity and sentenced to life in prison.”

It’s a silly argument, like saying the “Helter Skelter” reference should not have been used in Manson’s trial because literally tens of millions of Beatles fans listened to it and didn’t kill anybody.

So I guess now whatever inspired Manson to commit mass murder wouldn’t be admissible in court, and he would have to be released to kill and kill again. Fortunately, he died in 2017.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Seiler
John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. He has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at JohnSeiler.Substack.com