A local attorney is alleging police interpreted common African-American slang to prove criminal activity against his client.
“I gotta holla at you” and “I gotta bump heads with you” picked up from intercepted calls and texts were used in helping secure search warrants in the 2016 multi-defendant Atlantic County drug case.
But the phrases were no more about setting up drug deals than “I need to talk to you” or “I need to meet with you,” attorney Robert Tarver Jr. argues in a motion that will be heard Wednesday by Superior Court Judge Patricia Wild.
“What we’re seeing is the criminalization of black language,” Tarver told BreakingAC.
Tarver’s client, Jamal Hall, was one of 41 people charged in an alleged drug-trafficking ring in July 2016.
While a search of Hall’s home did result in the seizure of drugs, that doesn’t mean that the search itself was legal, Tarver said.
He includes as evidence memes, book excerpts and lyrics to a song by rapper J. Cole to prove that “Holla at ya” is a common phrase used in the African-American community.
“If Mr. Hall had used the phrases, ‘I need to talk to you’ in his conversation or texts, no reasonable person could say that the phrase meant that drug activity was afoot,” Tarver wrote in his motion.
“Judges across the nation are going to have start dealing with this,” Tarver told BreakingAC. “We’re challenging the whole notion of a police officer using that type of language as evidence when they don’t have probable cause otherwise.”
Tarver heavily quotes Atlantic City Detective Darrin Lorady’s affidavit presented July 5, 2016, that was used to obtain search warrants.
But “contrary to Detective Lorady’s assertions, (the phrases quoted) are NOT terms specifically designated for drug activity but are part of African American Vernacular English and slang,” Tarver writes.
Since often the only interaction police have with the black community is during criminal investigations, the presumption is made that these common phrases always relate to crime, he argues.
It’s no different than “the association of ‘hoodies’ and ‘sagging pants’ (that) has come to be synonymous with ‘thuggery,’” Tarver wrote.