Bell v. Itawamba County Board

Eric B. - LLI Cincinnati

In August 2011, Taylor Bell made a rap song in which he stated that Coach Wildmon and Coach Rainey had both had improper contact with female students. The last two verses of the song were “looking down girls’ shirts/drool running down your mouth/messing with the wrong one/going to get a pistol down your mouth” and “middle fingers up if you can't stand that ni**a/middle fingers up if you want to cap that ni**a.” Although, these lyrics are very vulgar and inappropriate, they are still protected under the First Amendment; Freedom of Speech.

I believe that he shouldn't have been suspended at all for what he did because he is a student in the United States, he should have his rights protected no matter what. In the song, he never actually stated that he was going to put the pistol in the coaches’ mouths. Therefore, Taylor Bell didn't threaten them both aggressively. As in the article “The Hip Hop Case the Supreme Court Should Reject,” Killer Mike wrote to CNN, “We don't assume that Quentin Tarantino, Stephen King, or Johnny Cash carry out sometimes the extreme violence depicted in their art because we acknowledge it as art.”

He is saying that it is just the same as people who write or talk about extremely explicit books or paint/draw pictures.

People consider it art and extol it without any recollection on whether it could have been true or not.

Blame cannot and should not be placed upon Bell just because a few people misinterpret his intent with the rap song he recorded in 2001. Bell didn't even perform the song on school grounds. In the article posted by the New York Times, artists like T.I., Big Boi, and Killer Mike said that” “Following a long line of rappers before him,” Bell saw an opportunity to confront injustice.” Meaning that he was only trying to express his ideas and thoughts with an art form that has been around for years. For example, the late Bob Marley says repeatedly that he shot the sheriff in “Shot the Sheriff.” Although he did say some part of the song was true, there's is still no way of knowing whether he actually shot a sheriff.

The First Amendment is and has always been a shaky topic that has caused many sporadic claims on what's protected or what could be a potential violation of, but I think that there can be certain limits on what you can do and say just as long as it doesn't infringe on another person’s rights. In this case, Bell v. Itawamba, I believe that Bell was in the right to express his opinions in the rap song. He was protected under the First Amendment and shouldn't have received any disciplinary action prior to court. It is not anyone's right to take away anyone else's rights no matter how you feel- especially if it's someone's thoughts on paper that you find malicious.

Sources Considered:

  • Bell v. Itawamba Cty. Sch. Bd., 859 F. Supp. 2d 834, 836 (N.D. Miss. 2012).
  • Wallenstein, Andrew. "The Hip-Hop Case the Supreme Court Should Reject." Web blog post. Variety. 22 Feb. 2016. 
  • Liptak, Adam. "Hip Hop Stars Support Mississippi Rapper in First Amendment Case." Web blog post. Sidebar. The New York Times Company, 20 Dec. 2015. 
  • Stern, Mark, J. "Judges Have No Idea What to Do About Student Speech on the Internet." Web blog post. Future Tense. Slate, 18 Feb. 2016.  
  • Crowley, Brian. "Supreme Court Refuses to Provide Clarity on Discipline for Off-Campus, Online Student Speech." Web blog post. Education Law Insights. Lexology, 29 February 2016. 
  • "School was Right to Expel Student Over Violent Poetry." eSchoolNews. Eschool Media Sites. 1 Aug. 2001.