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ISTANBUL: Protesters wheel a person overcome with the effects of tear gas during clashes in Istanbul between police forces and people protesting against security operations against Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey. — AP
ISTANBUL: Protesters wheel a person overcome with the effects of tear gas during clashes in Istanbul between police forces and people protesting against security operations against Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey. — AP

Turkey shells Kurds as raids hit MSF hospital

Opening statements in the long-awaited US gang conspiracy trial targeting rapper Young Thug are slated for Monday, with the prosecution expected to controversially present lyrics as evidence. The opening statements come nearly 11 months after the painstaking jury selection process began in the trial, which could last well into next year. They also begin weeks after a motions hearing in which Atlanta Judge Ural Glanville gave prosecutors the green light to present 17 sets of lyrics as evidence, provided they could link their content to real-world crimes. Defense attorneys had sought to exclude lyrics from evidence, saying the use of verses could unfairly influence the jury.

Many free speech advocates and others in the music industry are on their side: critics say the practice of examining verses—which has sparked controversy numerous times over past decades—is a violation of constitutionally protected expression that could chill creativity by taking slice-of-life lyrics out of context and criminalizing artists of color. Young Thug, the 32-year-old rapper born Jeffery Williams, was one of 28 alleged street gang members originally swept up in a May 2022 racketeering indictment. Many of those defendants have since taken plea deals or will be tried separately.

The accusations included myriad underlying offenses that prosecutors say support an overarching conspiracy charge, including murder, assault, carjacking, drug dealing and theft. Prosecutors say Young Thug’s record label is a front for a crime ring, arguing that the defendants belong to a branch of the Bloods street gang identified as Young Slime Life, or YSL. But defense lawyers insist YSL instead stands for Young Stoner Life Records, a hip-hop and trap label that Young Thug founded in 2016 and which, they say, amounts to a vague association of artists, not a gang.

‘Fictional art form’

During the motions hearing, prosecutor Mike Carlson told the judge: “The question is not rap lyrics. The question is gang lyrics.” “These are party admissions,” he added. A party admission is a statement by a party to a criminal case or lawsuit that is offered as evidence against that person. But the defense countered that “rap is the only fictional art form treated this way.”

“As soon as you put these lyrics in front of a jury, the blinders drop,” said Doug Weinstein, who represents the artist Yak Gotti, one of the 28 indicted. Several studies support Weinstein’s argument, and Erik Nielson, a University of Richmond professor and specialist on the subject, told AFP earlier this year that prosecuting rap lyrics “resides in a much longer tradition of punishing Black expression.”

Nielson could not comment directly on the YSL case as he will testify in it as an expert witness, but said that “we know that this issue of rap on trial is just one manifestation of a system that is hell-bent on locking up young men of color.” The scholar said he thinks prosecutors see lyrics as “insurance” that they will secure a conviction. “If you have other evidence, don’t use the rap lyrics,” Nielson said. “And if you don’t have other evidence, don’t bring the charges in the first place.” The prosecution filed a list of hundreds of potential witnesses. The defense’s list includes expert and character witnesses including family members as well as fellow rappers T.I. and Killer Mike. — AFP

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