Pennsylvania’s highest court is reviewing the conviction of a Pittsburgh man named Jamal Knox for making threats against police in a rap song after he was charged with drug offenses. The Pennslyvania Supreme Court said it would take an appeal by Jamal Knox, who argues his song is protected by the right to free speech.
Knox wants the court to set aside his convictions for witness intimidation and making terroristic threats.
“Just because a police officer arrests you, doesn’t mean you are stripped of any free speech ability to say, ‘Wait a minute, that officer did me wrong, and here’s why I think so,'” Knox’s lawyer Patrick K. Nightingale said.
The Allegheny County district attorney’s office told the Pennslyvania Superior Court last year the song “was not mere political hyperbole but, rather, the sort of ‘true threat’ that is not protected by the First Amendment.”
Knox’s case began in April 2012 when Knox, 22, drove away after telling an officer he did not have a valid driver’s license. Following a chase in which he hit a parked car and a fence, police found 15 bags of heroin, $1,500, and a loaded gun on Knox.
Seven months after the incident, an officer came across the video online, performed by Knox under the name ‘Mayhem Mal’ of the ‘Ghetto Superstar Committee’ with co-defendant Rashee Beasley. Knox and Beasley posted another video in which they said they wrote the song, titled “F*** the Police.” The two officers identified in the song were provided with additional security protections.
Knox’s lawyers argued that Knox did not post the song online himself and that the video was taken down from YouTube after three days. Furthermore, Knox’s lawyers argued to the Superior Court that whether the song is protected free speech or a criminal threat “could hardly be of more substantial importance; it is perhaps the most salient issue of our time.”
Knox was convicted in February 2014, in relation to the video, of two counts of witness intimidation and two counts of terroristic threats. His sentence on all counts, including drug charges, was two to six years in prison. He was paroled from state prison last month.