High School Student Faces 10 Years in Prison After Releasing Graphic Rap Song on SoundCloud
A high schooler in New Jersey is facing up to 10 years in prison for posting a graphic rap song on SoundCloud, BuzzFeed News reports. Local authorities believe the song was enough to warrant a credible school shooting threat, while the student, Michael Schmitt, claims the song was a parody. The case sets up a conflict between free speech considerations and a desire to combat gun violence.
Schmitt posted the song in question, "u lil sluts @ jchs i love u all even tho yall hurt me and i forgive u. i would never hurt u," and promoted it on Twitter and Snapchat, on Feb. 24—10 days after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. "jchs" stands for James Caldwell High School, where Schmitt is enrolled. The track, according to BuzzFeed, included the lyrics, "You can suck my dick," "You're gonna get cracked on the head like an egg, bitch" and "Pull my gun, kill your fuckin' head/Now you're dead, go to sleep." Adding to the controversy, Schmitt's SoundCloud profile picture showed him pointing a handgun at the camera.
That same day, another student saw Schmitt's tweet, noticed his SoundCloud profile picture and showed the song to their mother, according to police reports. Later that afternoon, school administrators reported a possible shooting threat to police, leading a SWAT team to place the campus on lockdown. Schmitt was subsequently arrested on the charge of creating a "false public alarm," which carries a five to ten-year prison sentence in New Jersey. He was placed in jail and is currently on house arrest, awaiting a potential grand jury trial.
Schmitt told BuzzFeed that the song was not intended to be taken seriously. "They painted me as a school shooter, and that's terrifying," he said. "Whenever these school shootings are happening, it's scary to me that I'm being associated with that because of this rap song."
The school's principal, Jim Devlin, disagrees. "A student associated with our school put a violent song on SoundCloud, which references killing somebody — shooting somebody in the head — and posts a picture of him with a gun, and made a connection to girls at our school," Devlin told BuzzFeed. "If you put all of that together, it does seem pretty threatening. At that point it's not my job to say, Is it credible? Is it not? We have to protect our students and families."
Several legal scholars, however, expressed concern to BuzzFeed about the possibility of prosecuting Schmitt based on his music.
"This is making the argument that the art is actually autobiography," University of Richmond's Erik Neilson said, referencing the trend of prosecutors introducing rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trials. He continued, "What's disturbing is that we're just seeing more and more of these cases all over."
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