News your connection to The Boston Globe

Rap writer can't be expelled, judge says

Violent language not 'true threats'

PITTSBURGH -- A federal judge ordered a school district yesterday to readmit a 14-year-old student who had been expelled for writing violent, profane rap lyrics, ruling that the boy's songs did not amount to ''true threats" against the school and so were protected by the First Amendment.

The Riverside Beaver County School District kicked out Anthony Latour because officials thought his lyrics constituted threats to shoot up the school and another student.

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing Latour, said his songs were ''battle rap," a genre in which two people try to out-rhyme each other, often using violent language. US District Judge Donetta Ambrose overturned his expulsion and ordered the district to admit Latour to the ninth grade when classes resume Wednesday.

In one song, Latour wrote: ''So watch what you say about me, I'm everywhere son/ And the word of mouth is that I'm carrying guns/ Now that I'm comin' for you -- what the [expletive] you gonna do/ I come double with the pump tons of slugs that will punish you."

School officials learned of Latour's writings in March and contacted police, who charged him with terroristic threats and harassment. He was expelled in May. The charges are pending.

Ambrose doubted the assertion that the music was threatening.

That argument, Ambrose said, had been weakened because school officials had not taken immediate steps to investigate the music, such as searching Latour's locker or contacting his parents. Ambrose also said school officials had not presented evidence that the songs disrupted school.

''If you could punish on words alone without looking at context, you could wipe out the entertainment industry, and certainly rap music," said Witold Walczak, who is the Pennsylvania legal director of the ACLU.

The school district's solicitor, Greg Fox, said that officials would follow the judge's ruling.

''Sometimes, perhaps it is better to take the words too seriously than to dismiss them," Fox said in a statement. ''There have been several parents within this school district that felt the songs could not be taken lightly." Latour still faces a juvenile court hearing Wednesday. Walczak said that if Latour were found to be delinquent, that would not be grounds for keeping him out of school, because the songs were composed at his home.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives