San Diego-based rapper Tiny Doo has already spent eight months in prison, and faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted under a little-known California statute that makes it illegal to benefit from gang activities.
The statute in question is California Penal Code 182.5. The code makes it a felony for anyone to participate in a criminal street gang, have knowledge that a street gang has engaged in criminal activity, or benefit from that activity.
It’s that last part — benefiting from criminal activity — that prosecutors are going after the rapper for.
Tiny Doo, whose real name is Brandon Duncan, faces nine counts of criminal street gang conspiracy because prosecutors allege he and 14 other alleged gang members increased their stature and respect following a rash of shootings in the city in 2013.
Prosecutors point to Tiny Doo’s album, “No Safety,” and to lyrics like “Ain’t no safety on this pistol I’m holding” as examples of a “direct correlation to what the gang has been doing.”
No one suggests the rapper ever actually pulled a trigger.
In fact, Duncan may rap about violence but he’s got no criminal record.
Duncan told CNN’s Don Lemon he’s just “painting a picture of urban street life” with his lyrics.
“The studio is my canvas. I’m just painting a picture,” he said. “I’m not telling anybody to go out and kill somebody.”
He denied any involvement with any gang but said the prosecution has him concerned about future creative expression.
“I would love to continue to rap,” he said. “But these people have you scared to do anything around here.”
Prosecutors say lyrics aren’t the only evidence they have. At Duncan’s preliminary hearing, they presented social media posts that they say prove Duncan is still a gang member.
CNN Legal Analyst Mark Geragos says the district attorney may be trying to send a message “that you shouldn’t glorify or glamorize gang activity.”
“The problem is you’re going to run straight head-on into the First Amendment,” he said. “If they don’t have anything other than the album, this case I don’t think would ever stand up.”