Roughly two weeks after the Parkland shooting in Florida, a New York man is facing felony charges after a song suggested he was going to shoot up a high school.
Echoing a case that went up to the Supreme Court, Randy Ross asked whether the First Amendment exists anymore, claiming his words were art and expression, not a threat to be taken serious.
In his argument, there’s a similarity to the case of Anthony Elonis, the Pennsylvania man who claimed his rap lyrics were not threats against his ex-wife, their children or the federal agents who had arrested him. Elonis claimed he never intended to hurt anyone and his lyrics were a matter of creative expression, that he didn’t actually literally mean that he wanted to murder his ex-wife or blow up agents or shoot up a school.
Ross might be making the exact same move here.
In a video posted to YouTube called “School Shooter,” Ross stands in front of Greece Arcadia High School, in Rochester, NY, and two other schools in the same area. The lyrics include “I lay ‘em down like a school shooter” and “I’ll show up at your lunch, here (racial slur) eat this, four clip let it rip” according to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
The video was published Feb. 19, just five days after the shooting at the Florida high school in which 16 students and one teacher were killed.
Ross is charged with making a terroristic threat, a felony. New York State law says a person is guilty of making a terroristic threat when “he or she threatens to commit or cause to be committed a specified offense and thereby causes a reasonable expectation of fear or the imminent commission of such offense.”
In a post on his Facebook page, Ross, aka Randy Ross the Rappin Boss, writes “My video has officially reached the police officials. And they just came to my job and questioned me. On everything I love. Please share my video before it gets removed.”
When interviewed a few days later by David Andreatta, a columnist for the Democrat & Chronicle, Ross questioned whether his First Amendment rights were being thrown out.
Ross, 23, said he was “scared to death” about what was happening to him. He told Andreatta he paid a friend $80 to film the video recently for the song he wrote six months ago, releasing it now to “capitalize on the national conversation about the tragedy.”
He said the name was inspired by a friend, who suggested using “School Shooter” as his player name in “Call of Duty.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Ross said. “It’s a simile, you know, a comparison using the word ‘like’ or ‘as’.”
When pushed by Andreatta, Ross said he could be talking about laying “anything” down. “I’m laying down my music.”
A Go Fund Me page set up by a friend to try and raise bail money and help Ross support his young daughter has a goal of $100,000. After four days, there were zero donations.
Ross is a graduate of Greece Arcadia High School but no school is specifically named in the song.
The video is still up on YouTube. It now has more than 26,000 views. Lyrically, it’s a lot about drugs and family problems (“I got a whole sister I ain’t even met yet”) but other than the chorus, it does not specifically spell out intentions or methods for actually shooting up a school. I’m not even sure there’s a gun visible in the video at all. Drugs, sure, but he’s also pumping gas and buying a cigarillo.
Maybe this will blow over and the terrorism charge will be dropped. Maybe Ross’ First Amendment question is valid here. Maybe his intention, to “capitalize” on the conversation about school shootings and drive more traffic to his song and his career, really is all he’s trying to do here.
Remember, too, that the First Amendment does not protect someone who shouts “fire” in a crowded theater.