Pure Justice Participatory Defense Campaign members witnessed the entirety of a jury trial that ended in the beginning of May. This particular case was different from any I had witnessed in person. Prosecutors used a video of the defendant, who was out with his friends dancing and rapping to Meek Mill’s song “Dreams and Nightmares” against him during the sentencing phase of his trial. This tactic is mostly used on rappers. The person charged was a military veteran.
The use of rap music against a defendant in a sentencing phase can be very contentious. Rap music is a very popular form of expression that reflects the culture and experiences of many people. It is also a form of artistic expression. Prosecutors believe it is also associated with violent and criminal behavior in the public’s imagination and is used by them to weaponize rap music against defendants in legal cases. These controversial tactics have been known to lead to lengthy prison sentences. Can you imagine for a moment going out with your friends to a club or concert and dancing while this song comes on? Next thing you know, it is being used as evidence against you in court. Beware!
Technological advances have made it easier to reach people via digital platforms. The drawback is that now prosecutors will have access to all of your videos, photos, social media during your trial and will select the videos that will be the most inflammatory to be played back in court against you to secure a conviction. Prosecutors using rap lyrics to paint a defendant’s character as if they are actually involved in the alleged criminal activity instead of the person’s actual life experiences is extremely problematic. Rap music has been tone-policed for decades originating from communities that have been over-policed and under-resourced. If the defendant is listening to a song and the lyrics contain references to murder, violence, drug use, or other illegal behavior, prosecutors may argue the defendant is a threat and a danger to society based on their music preferences.
Dreams and Nightmares is an extremely popular song by Meek Mill that has received over 94 million views on YouTube. It has been played everywhere including concerts, clubs, weddings, block parties, and more. Ultimately, the decision to use rap music in a sentencing phase would depend on the specific circumstance of the case and would be at the discretion of the judge. It is important to approach any evidence, including rap lyrics, with a critical eye to avoid making broad assumptions based on biases and cultural stereotypes. Prosecutors using rap lyrics during a sentencing phase in hopes of receiving harsher sentences are instead letting and hoping the rap lyrics do the racist signaling for them to those with anti-black sentiments.
The irony of this is that Meek Mill is working to ban the use of rap lyrics being used as evidence.
Written By: Joy Davis