Jul 8, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Detail view of a city of Pittsburgh police officer’s badge covered in solidarity with Dallas police before the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters Picture Supplied by Action Images

News & Updates

August 21, 2018: The Violent Threats Were Directed At Police Officers Who Had Arrested The Rapper 

An online music video filled with violent threats directed towards two cops was a “true threat” and not protected speech under the First Amendment, the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court ruled.

The high court turned down an appeal by the video’s creator who made “highly personalized” descriptions of killing police officers in the lyrics of his music video, naming two officers who had previously arrested him and were scheduled to testify against him in a criminal case.

The rapper Jamal Knox had argued that the song was protected speech and that a conviction was a violation of First Amendment rights. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Knox’s lawyer argued that the song was “artistic.”

Chief Justice Thomas Saylor acknowledged the nature and sentiment of rap music but maintained that the lyrics did not include political, social, or academic commentary, nor was it satirical or ironic.

“They do not merely address grievances about police-community relations or generalized animosity toward the police…Rather, they primarily portray violence toward the police, ostensibly due to the officers’ interference…” Saylor wrote in the opinion.

Knox’s claim was supported by several First Amendment-focused groups who said that the song constituted free speech protections.

Associated Press Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Washington Post

Opinion & Analysis

In What Ways Has The Criminal Justice System Clashed With Music Lyrics And Are Threatening Rap Lyrics Protected by Free Speech?
Dahlia Lithwick of Slate talks to rap music scholar Charis Kubrin about how rap lyrics have been treated in a courtroom.

Documents & Resources


See more: Artistic Speech and Hate Speech