Sunday, December 25, 2016

Controversy and Censorship -- Meet the Flockers --Part Two

This is part two of a two part piece. To read part one, follow this link:

As detailed last week on this blog a hip hop rap called "Meet the Flockers" was released in March of 2014 as part of an album called "My Crazy Life." The song detailed how to rob a home and specifically advised people to target homes in Chinese neighborhoods as Chinese have traditionally kept larger amounts of cash and valuables around the home than many ethnic groups.

Not surprisingly the song offended many Chinese Americans. This controversy grew after, as detailed on last week's blog post, a Chinese woman in Georgia shot some African Americans who were attempting to rob her house.

In this blog, I will discuss the politics of the song, the response from the Chinese community in the USA, and the the response to the response. Then I will discuss the legalities and free speech issues surrounding the song.
Responses to the song included protests outside of YG's shows as well as a petition to the White House asking that the song be banned.

It said:
"The song "Meet the Flockers" by YG encourages violence and crimes to a specific ethnic group. As one of this group in North America, I feel seriously offended and threatened. Please ban the song from public media and investigate legal responsibilities of the writer." 

The petition was signed by over 100,000 people, and therefore under the rules of the "We the people" forum the White House was required to give a response.   

The response was as follows:
"Thanks for taking the time to sign this petition on the We the People platform.
The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech in the United States. The White House doesn't make decisions about whether particular songs are available publicly. Individual platforms determine their choice of content and the rules of participation and conduct for their sites.
We encourage you to use the We the People platform to petition the Administration to take action on the policy issues you care about, and appreciate your interest in using the platform to make your voices heard.
-- We the People Team" 

In other words, a form response, citing first amendment and freedom of speech concerns and a lack of authority by the White House to ban such a song.

At what point does a song, film, book, or other piece of media that discusses methods of committing crimes cross the line and lose its first amendment protection? This is an issue I've discussed before when I wrote about the Paladin Press "Hitman" book and its lawsuit for "Gauntlet" magazine's 13th issue.


[NOTE: I  am not a lawyer., I am a freelance journalist. Please do not take the following as legal advice.]

Discussing the commission of crimes in generally, including the best ways to commit crimes, is considered protected speech under the first amendment. This includes general discussions of how a criminal could or should target victims and which sorts of people make the best victims for specific categories of crimes. Such discussions can be legally made but only in a general sense. 

The rapper says the best way to rob a house is to find one where the people who live there do not use bank accounts. This is a general statement. To prohibit it might lead to accidental restrictions on advising people not to keep large sums of money in their house. 

However, if you were to specify a specific target such as me or you by name then it would cross the line from free speech into advocacy of a crime. In other words if you say "It is best to rob Chinese people" that is legal protected speech, as offensive as it may be, as "Chinese people" is a large category and type of people and you are speaking in general terms. It could perhaps even be argued that by making such a statement, the speaker might be better enabling the targetted group, in this case "Chinese people" to protect themselves from such crimes. 

If, however, you advocate a specific individual as someone who should be targetted for a crime then you have slipped over an important legal line and are now advocating the commission of a crime.  

In other words, if you state, for example, that Mr, John Chang of 123 First Street, in Anytown USA is a good person to rob because his house contains many valuables and suggest that people do so, then you have just crossed an important line and advocated the commission of a specific crime with a specific victim. This is illegal and not protected under the first amendment. The first amendment does not cover any right to advocate the commission of specific crimes.   

Therefore the US government does not have a right to ban songs that offend people except in certain carefully defined circumstances. But you can write a song in response. 

In fact, this has been done. (The song even references the shooting in Atlanta, among other things.)

Then again, some would say it's best to argue these things. It's tought to day. Freedom of speech is not always pretty or safe but it's an important part of the American system. And, yes, I did look up the song and it is offensive to Chinese people.

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