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Atlanta DA Defends Use of Rap Lyrics In Court: ‘People Can Continue to Be Angry’

"If you decide to admit your crimes over a beat, I'm gonna use it," Fani Willis said, months after she cited Young Thug and Gunna's music in a sweeping gang case.

Atlanta’s top prosecutor offered no apologies Monday for her use of rap lyrics to bring criminal cases against artists like Young Thug and Gunna, criticizing proposed legislation that would restrict the practice and saying simply that “people can continue to be angry about it.”

At a press conference announcing an unrelated new gang indictment that once again featured quotes from rap lyrics as evidence of crimes, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis offered a full-throated endorsement of a practice that critics say can inject racial bias into prosecutions.

“If you decide to admit your crimes over a beat, I’m gonna use it,” Willis said. “I have some legal advice: don’t confess to crimes on rap lyrics if you do not want them used, or at least get out of my county.”

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The statements came four months after Willis unveiled a sweeping indictment against Young Thug (Jeffery Williams), Gunna (Sergio Kitchens) and more than two dozen other alleged gang members who she says wrought “havoc” on the Atlanta area. In that case, the indictment repeatedly quoted from lyrics by the two star rappers, drawing sharp criticism from their defense attorneys and others.

For decades, prosecutors across the country have cited rap lyrics as evidence to help charge and convict the artists who wrote them. Courts have largely upheld the practice, but critics say it’s deeply unfair – potentially swaying juries with irrelevant info that can tap into racial biases against black men, and unfairly treating hip hop as different from other forms of art.

Last week, lawmakers in California passed legislation that would sharply limit the tactic in that state, and lawmakers in New York came close to doing the same earlier this year. A bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, which would ban the practice from federal prosecutions, was introduced in July by Rep. Hank Johnson, who represents the Atlanta-area 4th congressional district.

At Monday’s press conference, Willis was asked directly about Johnson’s bill. Though she said she would “welcome the opportunity” to discuss the legislation with the local congressman, she said she did not think the proposed law would be “successful.” Willis then read aloud to the room from one of the lyrics included in the indictment, which referenced stealing a car and included the line “kick in the house.”

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“They’re kicking in doors, committing home invasions, and now I’m using those lyrics [in which] they’re admitting to doing that,” Willis said. “I’m going to continue to do that, people can continue to be angry about it.”

When asked if she was targeting Atlanta’s vibrant hip-hop industry with such tactics, Willis rejected the suggestion: “I’m not targeting anyone, but … you do not get to commit crimes in my county and then decide to brag on it, which you do [as] form of intimidation and to further the gang, and not be held responsible.”

Watch the press conference below: