Greg Stump
During the final weekend of January, North and Northeast Portland erupted with several drive-by shootings. In two separate incidents, two alleged gang members were shot and killed. Then, late on Saturday night, a group of teenage girls were walking home when a car sped by. A bullet either shot at or from the car accidentally struck a 14-year-old girl. She survived, but was left partially paralyzed.

A week later, a 16-year old black teen, Isaiah Mandley, was arrested. Days later, his foster dad's house was ransacked and, although police didn't find a weapon, they did come away with a collection of rap lyrics penned by Mandley.

Last week, that case went to court, and along with it came a unique and asinine legal argument. The prosecutors have attempted to submit Mandley's rap lyrics as proof-positive that the teenager had a propensity to shoot someone.

On Friday, circuit court judge Jean Kerr Maurer said she would consider whether she would accept the evidence.

What makes the legal arguments by the District Attorney's office offensive is that they are attempting to develop a theory that links black culture--namely, rap music--to violent behavior. To support their claim that the 16-year-old is a murderous thug, they have offered, at best, specious evidence. One witness claims that they heard "young thugs" yelled right before the shooting. Mandley's rap group is called Young Thugz. But in a profile in the Tribune, one of the Mandley's friends and a rap music producer claimed that "Young Thugz isn't a gang; it's a way out of gangs." Even so, the police's Gang Enforcement Team has listed Young Thugz as one of the city's gangs. Friends and family have also explained that Mandley's lyrics were an attempt to make sense of what had been a tumultuous childhood.

Moreover, the attempt to form a nexus between music and murder has been rejected throughout the country's courtrooms. In spite of several high profile attempts to link lyrics to criminal violence, there is no legal precedent supporting that theory. During the '80s, both Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne were slammed with lawsuits after two different 19-year-olds shot themselves; both were listening to the heavy metal songs prior to their suicides. Judges summarily tossed out those arguments.

In 1993, Tupac Shakur was pulled into a murder case when a 19-year-old in Texas fatally shot a highway patrol officer. In that case, the teenager was speeding in a stolen truck when he was pulled over. He shot the officer pointblank. At the time, he was blaring Tupac. In his criminal case, the teen's attorney offered no other defense besides claiming that Tupac's song inspired him; the jury rejected that argument.

The submission of the lyrics also brings to light a troubling trend at the prosecutors' office to stereotype young black men. Perhaps the most egregious example came three years ago when the DA tried to rope two black men into assault charges. In that case, five black teens had already admitted to jumping three off-duty officers near the Greek Cuisina.

Although there was no direct evidence that placed these other two black men at the scene, the DA tried to snag them by claiming that they had gang ties to the guilty men--and, therefore, must have been involved. Moreover, in spite of lacking any information about the two men's gang affiliations--one was a PCC student; the other worked full-time--the DA submitted a so-called gang "expert." That expert argued that, "If you walk like a duck, talk like a duck and sound like duck, you're a duck." (Rightfully, the judge presiding in that case admonished this opaquely racist comment.)

On Monday, Mandley accepted a plea bargain with the DA, accepting a six year sentence in a juvenile prison for second-degree assault (he was being tried as an adult for attempted murder). By the time that Mandley accepted the plea bargain, the Judge Maurer had not yet decided whether to accept the lyrics as evidence regarding the teen's state of mind and intentions. Although the plea bargain and lack of a ruling on the lyrics renders the issue moot, the outcome of the case can only encourage the DA to continue to mistake creative expressions for criminal behavior--and, moreover, plays into the stereotypes apparently alive and well at the DA's office.