The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upheld the conviction of Jamal Knox, who had been found guilty of threatening two Pittsburgh police officers in his rap song “F— the Police.”
Knox, who performs under the pseudonym Mayhem Mal, was charged and convicted of threatening Officers Daniel Zeltner and Michael Kosko of the Pittsburgh Police Department but appealed the conviction on the basis of free speech.
Knox was pulled over by Pittsburgh police officers in 2011 and was found to not have a valid driver’s license, according to court records. After attempting to flee in his Jeep and on foot, he and his passenger and fellow rapper, Rashee Beasley, were caught and arrested. Police found 30 stamp bags of heroin, a firearm and $1,812 in the vehicle.
In 2012, while the cases related to the drugs, traffic stop and firearms were still pending, police officers found a Facebook page with links to several rap songs performed by Knox and Beasley, one of which was “F— the Police.”
The song not only threatens police officers in general, but also specifically threatens the officers of the Pittsburgh Police Department and names Kosko and Zeltner as targets.
“This first verse is for Officer Zeltner and all you FED force b—es and Mr. Kosko can suck my d— for knocking my riches,” the song lyrics state.
“We makin’ prank phone calls and as soon as you b—es come we bustin’ heavy metal / So now Kosko gonna chase me through the streets and I’m a jam this rusty knife all in his guts and chop his feet /… well your shift over at three and I’m a f— up where you sleep.
“Let’s kill these cops, ’cause they don’t do us no good, pulling your Glock out cause I live in the hood.”
The First Amendment forbids the government to “(abridge) the freedom of speech,” but there are limitations to this right, one of which is inciting actions that would harm another, according to USCourts.gov.
According to Heritage.org, two schools of thought have developed within courts regarding whether a threat is protected by the First Amendment or punishable by law.
The first is based on how the threat is perceived. Elonis v. United States was overturned by the Supreme Court, but its original ruling showed if a “reasonable person” would perceive the statement as a threat, it is not protected.
Other cases like United States v. Cassel and Rogers v. United States show that intent to make a threat is necessary for conviction.
This means there must be an intent to communicate the threat and the speech must be intended as a threat.
Regardless of the legal precedence or thought process of judges and juries, I believe the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania made the right call.
Any “reasonable person” could perceive Knox’s lyrics as threatening, and even if he argued that he did not intend the song to be a true threat, I see little ground on which he could stand.
If Knox did not intend this song to be a true threat, why name the arresting officers? Why give such detail as to how he would kill them?
If the threats were generalized to all officers, there might be room for Knox to maintain that his lyrics were not a true threat, but since he gave so much detail, there is little room to say those threats were not intentional.
Even if Knox convinced a court that his threats were not intended for Zeltner and Kosko, I cannot imagine being so disrespectful to police officers as to write a song called “F— the Police.” Our police and first responders risk their lives every day to maintain our safety and freedoms, and they deserve our respect.
Although I am sure not every officer is perfect, without them our country would descend into anarchy at the hands of people like Knox and Beasley, and dangerous drugs and firearms would not be governed. Our safety would become minute.
By living in this country, Knox and Beasley agree to follow the laws governing it. They have no right to break those laws, no right to be angry when they face punishment for doing so, no right to threaten injury or death to anyone, and they have no right to disrespect the police who risk their lives to protect us from anarchists like Knox and Beasley.