When Is Recording a Music Video Child Abuse?

Rap videos are often criticized for promoting drugs and sex to youth. There has never been a real legal problem with such videos though because of free speech protections. The music video involving Luis Rivera Jr., “Lil Poopy,” though has brought a new spotlight to rap because “Lil Poopy” is not only promoting drugs and sex to a prospective youth audience – “Lil Poopy” is a youth, or rather a nine-year old child, himself. The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (MDCF) are now investigating to determine if there is child abuse or neglect. If the investigation yields child abuse or neglect, Luis Rivera Sr., the child’s father, could face criminal prosecution.

lil poopyLil Poopy made headlines when he was featured in a music video riding in a Ferrari with the “Coke Boys,” a rap group. The lyrics are primarily “coke ain’t a bad word,” although the group defends the lyrics by saying that the lyrics are mainly about soda. The video shows Lil Poopy engaging in very sexually suggestive dances while a crowd throws money at them. The video ends with Lil Poopy slapping an adult woman’s buttocks. The video can be viewed here.

The MDCF received a tip from a viewer about the content of the video and they launched an investigation. The father denied any wrongdoing and hired an attorney. The lawyer, Joseph Krowski believes that Lil Poopy has a right to express himself and that the investigation is racially motivated. The Coke Boys have disclaimed any claims that Lil Poopy is signed on with them, but the producer, Brian Slay, says that the video is “fine.” Slay claims that Lil Poopy does “well in school and is liked by peers and teachers.”

It is understandable that the MDCF would want to investigate after the release of this video. The video is highly suggestive of drugs and sex. Although such topics are not unusual in music, let alone rap, it is disturbing to see a child singing and taking part in a video which could be viewed as celebrating such vices. The Rivera family is correct that there is no express child abuse, physical, sexual or emotional injury, to the boy. Permitting a child to believe that drugs and random sexual acts towards women are socially acceptable behavior though could lead to a defect in Louis Rivera’s moral judgment. If the father allows his son to participate in this kind of conduct, the father could be responsible for any cocaine usage, distribution and prostitution his son could engage in. This video is a child neglect case waiting to explode.

The problem with this argument thought is that making such a video would lead to such a slide, a slippery slope which may not occur at all. Moreover, as the Rivera’s attorney points out, “even nine-year olds have First Amendment rights.” First Amendment rights do have limitations, including a prohibition against inciting violence.

From the MDCF point of view, the video is inciting sex and drug use among youth, which are both violations of the law. Restricting speech on the basis of wrongful conduct should only be done if the leap from speech to conduct is so short that the conduct is almost immediate. Holding otherwise would result in government making otherwise legal acts criminal.

This story is most disturbing if it is taken as a moral thermometer of the country. Although Americans cherish their liberties, we do have to wonder if the floor of moral conduct has fallen too low. As a family member remarked to me, “sometimes there is too much freedom.” When a child is all but marketing drug and sex, we as a country should step back and reflect on whether the observation about too much freedom is true.

I believe there is no such thing as too much freedom, at least with regards to free speech. First, the alternative, not enough freedom, is much worse. Second, even if lack of moral decency is a problem, that does not mean the law is the solution. The law, which forces people to obey through the use of criminal sanctions, is often too blunt a tool to encourage people to do what they should do. Moral decency is won not by damning the flow of free speech, but by opening the floodgates. If the Lil Poopy video is a moral travesty, than the response should be to talk about why it is wrong, not to lock up parents who permit such recordings.

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