NY police chief: rapper who was no-billed by grand jury still guilty

A couple of years ago, a rapper in Greece, New York decided to make a music video called “School Shooter.” The video itself features school property but the content and the lyrics do not reference any sort of plot against students. From what I can tell Randy Ross is more concerned about friends and associates betraying him, than anything else.

Not so for Greece police! The department arrested Ross on terroristic threat charges. Ross’ attorneys argued it was a First Amendment issue while police told WROC they were worried because the video was posted online a week after the Stoneman Douglas High shooting in Florida. A grand jury looked at the case, agreed with Ross on the First Amendment, and no-billed him.

Case closed, right? Not so fast.

Two years later, Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan is still irked over the decision. Phelan got into a bit of a Twitter argument with an attorney in Brockport over what happened in grand jury proceedings.

I’d be curious to know exactly who ‘the victims’ were in this case. The rap industry, videographers, and my own ears come to mind since the “School Shooter” song is rather unimpressive. Ross is no Tupac or Biggie Smalls or Kanye in his artistry. He can rap fast, but that appears to be it.

However, there was no reason for the police to arrest him. Ross never threatened anyone nor did he suggest an attack on a school was in the future. This strikes me as a case of complete overreaction by law enforcement and it might have been wiser to put the entire situation in the “Young Man Makes Dumb Decision” category. Chief Phelan may be hellbent on defending his officers, but two wrongs do not make a right, especially in this case.

This does beg the question of the benefits of the so-called ‘See Something, Say Something’ society we’re taught to live in and how it can be taken to the extreme. It sometimes appears people are willing to call police on practically any situation, whether it be an open door or the discovery of a single bullet in a car. It can give police, particularly those who seek to justify their budget each year, license to treat almost any deviation of normal behavior as a crime instead of showing sound judgment and taking things on a case by case basis.

It’s understandable why people became worried over the video, given the fact it dropped shortly after the Stoneman Douglas shooting and featured a school. At the same time, anyone who bothered paying attention to the lyrics would have quickly realized schools had nothing to do with it. The suggestion from Phelan that Ross is still guilty of a crime is rather ridiculous since he never threatened anyone and never appeared interested in attacking students. He just used a poor choice in lyrics and location for the video, which isn’t a crime. The fact he had to go through the legal system to be cleared of charges is rather ridiculous, although it does why the grand jury system can work.

It’s a win for the First Amendment and one reason why the anti-Federalists fought hard for a Bill of Rights in the Constitution. Even though it’s doubtful they would have appreciated the so-called ‘artistry’ of the music video.