Award-winning law professor Paul Butler titled his inspirational and somewhat subversive book, “Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice” after dead prez’s debut album because he wanted to send a subliminal message of camaraderie to the most incarcerated population in the history of the world – the Hip-Hop generation.
For years Butler, a Yale and Harvard graduate, worked as a federal prosecutor in the District of Columbia, a city notorious for its drug infestation that heightened around the same time the incarceration rate increased as did the popularity of Hip-Hop. Butler was on the prosecutorial team when former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry was charged with possession of cocaine. Then one day, 33 years after Butler had been raised in the inner city by his single mom to become an accomplished African-American without a criminal record, he was arrested for a crime he didn’t commit and his perspective was changed.
It was a petty neighborhood beef over a parking spot that sparked his revolution, but turn he did. He left his post as a prosecutor and is now lecturing about how the War on Drugs and the fact that because the United States has more people locked up for drug crimes than people locked up for all crimes in the European Union is making our land of the free dangerous grounds where parents are missing from homes and low-level criminals are being bred for recidivism.
His soundtrack, he notes in “Let’s Get Free…” is Hip-Hop, because like no other multi-ethnic popular culture, this group of artists and consumers has a viewpoint that may save our nation. In Hip-Hop, he notes, justice is simple: “If you kill my dog, I’ma kill your cat,” and even though we don’t love the crime, we love our criminals: “I’d open every cell in Attica/send ‘em to Africa,” because we know that crime and punishment destroys neighborhoods.
So, to reverse what has been an alarming increase in jail building and lock ups, Butler outlines legislative ways that have long been acknowledged – focus resources on education and rehabilitation. He also calls for the individual to work the system (since the system isn’t working) through the completely legal practice of jury nullification in cases involving nonviolent drug offenses.
Jury nullification is what happened in the Barry case when, although the videotape evidence overwhelmingly pointed to guilty, the jury declared Barry not guilty either out of love and for the man or disdain for The Man. Or, as Butler says, “When we return to the best values of the patriots – their trust in the common person and their suspicion of an overbearing government – we will live up to the democracy’s highest ideals.”
For more information on “Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice,” log on to log on to www.letsgetfreethebook.com/.
Also check out Hip-Hop wired’s interview with Paul Butler here.