She Posted Rap Lyrics to Remember a Dead Teen, So the U.K. Prosecuted Her for Hate Speech
Why all Americans should be thankful for the First Amendment
Prosecutors in Liverpool decided they were unable to charge anybody in the death of Frankie Murphy when the 13-year-old boy was struck and killed by a car while riding his bike back in 2016.
But prosecutors did charge and convict a young woman who posted rap lyrics on Instagram in Murphy's memory, because they included the n-word.
Chelsea Russell, 19, posted lyrics to a song by the Detroit rapper Snap Dogg (no, not Snoop Dogg) on the bio of her Instagram account to pay tribute to Murphy. The song, "I'm Trippin'," released in 2016, is heavy on killing snitches and waving guns around and it has lots of use of the n-word. It's the type of song that people point to when they say they don't like rap music because it's too violent.
According to the Liverpool Echo, Russell's Instagram account was reported to a constable in a "hate crime unit" who found the lyrics "offensive and upsetting." Russell was charged with sending a grossly offensive message by means of a public electronic communications network.
At Russell's trial, her defense pointed out that Jay-Z had used these similarly offensive words at a music festival in Glastonbury. She had copied the lyrics off a friend's Instagram account—apparently thousands of others were using the lyrics to remember Murphy. Clearly it must have been a favorite song of his.
But the court and the magistrates didn't care. District Judge Jack McGarva said: "There is no place in civil society for language like that. Everyone with an Instagram account could view this content. The lyrics also encourage killing and robbing, so are grossly offensive."
Russell now has to submit to ankle monitoring for eight weeks and pay the equivalent of about $800 in fines.
This is what the enforcement of "hate speech" laws looks like. This woman was prosecuted entirely because a person in a position of power found her repetition of somebody else's song lyrics offensive. She does not stand accused even of using hate speech to actually encourage racial violence against others. People with the power to fine or lock up Russell merely found what she posted too offensive for their ears, and now she's going to pay for it.
Americans who insist that hate speech shouldn't be protected speech need to understand that: They're not the ones who will choose who gets prosecuted under these laws.
Here's the Snap Dogg song that inspired his whole case. Perhaps think twice about sharing if you're in the United Kingdom: