The term ‘hip hop police’ is used to describe a department in the NYPD devoted to pursuing criminal activities in hip hop. They stalk, profile rappers, monitor their shows and listen closely to their every word hoping to find some incriminating intel that can be used as evidence to indict them or be used as leverage to compel them into becoming federal informants.
Two New York lawmakers are hoping to stop that trend with a new proposed bill. According to multiple reports, Senators Brad Hoylman and Jamaal Bailey, from Manhattan and the Bronx respectively are introducing the “Rap Music on Trial” bill that could stop rap lyrics from being used as evidence in criminal trials.
Senator Holyman believes using rap and hip hop lyrics as evidence of criminal behavior is an infringement on the artist’s creative expression.
“Art is creative expression, not a blueprint of criminal plans,” Senator Hoylman said in a press release. “Yet we’ve seen prosecutors in New York and across the country try to use rap music lyrics as evidence in criminal cases, a practice upheld this year by a Maryland court. It’s time to end the egregious bias against certain genres of music, like rap, and protect the First Amendment rights of all artists. I’m proud to introduce this legislation so that New York leads the way in treating artists fairly, no matter their background.”
Holyman, per Rolling Stone cited Johnny Cash (“I Shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”) and David Byrne (“Don’t touch me, I’m a real live wire, psycho killer) as examples of songs from other genres that weren’t questioned, but rappers continue to have their lyrics used against them.
Senator Baily adds profiling rappers off the content of their music helps enforce racist stereotypes that have been used to keep black communities oppressed.
“The right to free speech is enshrined in our federal and state constitutions because it is through this right that we can preserve all of our other fundamental rights,” Senator Bailey said. “The admission of art as criminal evidence only serves to erode this fundamental right, and the use of rap and Hip Hop lyrics in particular is emblematic of the systemic racism that permeates our criminal justice system.”
He added, “In many cases, even the mere association with certain genres, like Hip Hop and rap, leads to heightened scrutiny in the courtroom and is used to presume guilt, immorality, and propensity for criminal activity. This bill will finally put an end to this grossly discriminatory practice by ensuring that there is a valid nexus between the speech sought to be admitted into evidence and the crime alleged.”
Hoylman says he and Bailey hope to introduce the legislation later this week.
“I’d love to see it become law next session,” Hoylman says. “I’m hopeful we can get this moving and on the governor’s desk before June.”
You can read through the full legislation here.