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Lakeland man gets 2 years in prison for rap song lyrics


Lakeland man gets 2 years in prison for rap song lyrics

I am becoming a little more than concerned for the First Amendment here lately. Let me state first that I do not like Rap music and second Antavio Johnson appears to be less than a reputable citizen. Having said that I still disagree with the decision to charge Johnson with a crime for his completely offensive musical tirade against police; of which I am one.

Here is an excerpt from the rap song "Kill Me a Cop," written and recorded by Antavio Johnson:

Hi, Grady
I gotta grudge with the judge
Rugers for prosecutors
Calicos for C.O.'s
Bullet holes for P.O.'s
This is reminiscent of Ice T's "Cop Killer". That song also stirred a strong reaction but did not result in anyone being criminally charged, nor should it have. I found the song more amusing than anything, especially considering Ice T spent a majority of his acting career playing a cop.

Was this song offensive,maybe ( its a matter of personal opinion), but criminal? It seems that the already thin skin of law enforcement has become all but transparent. We cannot strip the right of free speech from anyone no matter how offensive without endangering the rights of everyone else.

LAKELAND Authorities say a Lakeland man who used music to vent his frustrations with law enforcement will spend two years in prison for writing a threatening rap song.

Antavio Johnson, 20, was charged with two counts of corruption by threat of a public servant after a Polk County gang detective found the song on a MySpace page belonging to Hood Certified Entertainment in February.

I have charged individuals in the past with corruption by threat. The situations that I believe this statute was enacted to address are those where the officer (public official) is in immediate danger of the threat being carried out. For instance you issue a citation and an individual exits his car and threatens bodily harm if you do not “tear up” the ticket. Threats in the form of a rap song hardly seem to cross the threshold of imminent.

In his song, "Kill Me a Cop," Johnson mentions two Lakeland police officers by name, according to the Sheriff's Office.

After investigating, the detective realized the rapper known as "T.O." was Johnson, who was in a Polk County jail at the time for violating his probation.

…and therefore not capable of carrying out any threat against any person.

Polk Clerk of Courts records show Johnson is on probation for 2007 cocaine possession charges.

The detective consulted the State Attorney's Office, and prosecutors agreed to file charges against Johnson.

In an interview with the detective, Johnson admitted to writing and recording the song because he felt harassed by the Lakeland police officers, the Sheriff's Office said.

It may have been an ill advised way to vent frustration by not criminal. It is a tough call for me as I think credible threats against officers should be taken seriously but the question is this; is this threat credible?

TAKEN SERIOUSLY

Johnson pleaded no contest to the charges July 24 and was sentenced to two years in state prison.

The fact that Johnson is ignorant enough to plead to this charge does not mean the charge is in fact legitimate. We have to guard the rights of everyone, even the criminally stupid.

In the song, the lyrics "Im'ma kill me a cop one day" and "Call me crazy but I think I fell in love with the sound of hearing the dispatcher saying, 'Officer Down,'" are repeated.

"We took it seriously from the second we heard the song," said Carrie Eleazer, spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office.

Johnson also refers to being on probation, Sheriff Grady Judd and the 2006 killing of deputy Matt Williams and his K-9 DioGi.

Based on the facts and circumstances, two years in prison "appeared to be an appropriate punishment," said Chief Assistant State Attorney Chip Thullbery.

Johnson's friend, Daniel Barajas, 27, of Auburndale, who owns Hood Certified Entertainment, said he was the one who posted the song.

Barajas said "Kill Me a Cop" was unintentionally included on a CD of some of Johnson's unpublished music that he picked up at Studio 88 in Lakeland, where he said Johnson worked.

"It was my mistake. I didn't listen to it thoroughly. I liked the beat," Barajas said.
The song was never meant to be released, and he didn't realize that Johnson had named the two officers, Barajas said.

Even so, he said Johnson had no intentions of killing anyone, and the song was merely a "musical journal" for Johnson, who was tired of seeing officers harass others.

On Johnson's own MySpace page, he is listed as a Christian rap, hip hop, and rap artist.
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said it's not clear that Johnson's lyrics were "credible acts of violence."

I really hate the fact that I find myself on the side of the ACLU in any argument but it seems that this is in fact a question of First Amendment rights. Johnson, you, me or anyone has the right to express our opinions. I disagree with the content, I disagree with the manner in which he expresses his opinions but I cannot condone the silencing of a constitutional right to express his opinion.

"There's no question that the rap lyrics are ugly, (but) in America you don't punish ugly and hostile thoughts and words," Simon said.

FIRST AMENDMENT

He said the ACLU may look into Johnson's case.

Lawrence Walters, an Orlando lawyer who is not affiliated with Johnson's case, said he's also concerned that Johnson's rights were violated. The Web site for his law firm - Weston, Garrou, Walters & Mooney - says the firm is "dedicated to the defense of freedom and the protection of creative expression."

"I believe that these lyrics were protected by the First Amendment," Walters said.
The fact that the song was put on a public site does not mean that it was a direct threat, Walters said.

In the last two years, Barajas, who was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in May related to an attack outside a bar in Wahneta, said that Johnson was getting his life straightened out.

[ Sarah Stegall can be reached at sarah.stegall@yahoo.com or 863-802-7547. Ledger reporter Shoshana Walter contributed to this report.]

The truth is this; we have to protect the fundamental rights guaranteed in the constitution. We cannot condone the violation of any of those rights even if the person is a dirt bag. His rights are just as valid as ours (hurts to say that). If we allow the government to silence this offensive content we are giving them the right to silence anything else they deem unacceptable. The problem is once we open that door we may never be able to close it.

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