by Bill Weinberg
Atlanta rapper Terrell Davis, better known by his stage-name Ralo, has been held for nearly four years on a federal cannabis conspiracy charge, and finally faces sentencing in March. He is potentially looking at up to 20 years in prison. Top names in Hip Hop are mobilizing to plead for clemency in his case.
The moment of truth is about to arrive for Terrell “Ralo” Davis. The 26-year-old successful rapper, an icon of the Atlanta style, signed to Gucci Mane’s 1017 Records in 2015. But his next act could be a long stint in federal prison.
On Jan. 4, he sent out a message on his Instagram account from his cell in Alabama’s Clayton County Detention Center: “After 4 years of being dragged through all these different jails and COVID BS, I finally got a date set March 15.” He called for his followers to offer “prayers.”
By “COVID BS,” Ralo means frequent lockdowns, suspension of visitation rights, and other hardships brought on by the prison system’s response to the pandemic.
Enter: Mission Green, an activist group working to secure the release of those serving time for cannabis-related offenses, which is preparing an amicus brief calling on Judge Michael L. Brown of US District Court in Atlanta to give Ralo the minimum sentence.
The mandatory minimum sentence he faces (instated by the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act) is five years. If granted, he could be released to a half-way house fairly immediately, and released altogether in a matter of months, having already served nearly four years.
The maximum sentence is 20 years, but federal sentencing guidelines in his case call for five to nine typically. The judge can only go under the mandatory minimum if the defendant “cooperates”—that is, testifies against accused co-conspirators. This, Ralo is not doing.
To go above the recommended five-to-nine, the judge must explain his reasons for doing so—and this, happily, is not likely to happen.
Mission Green is petitioning for the minimum term in light of changes to cannabis policy at both state and federal level since Ralo was arrested – most federal court districts have stopped prosecuting cannabis cases altogether since the change in administration.
Ralo was taken into custody by federal agents at Atlanta’s DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in April 2018, after arriving in a private plane—allegedly with 444 pounds of cannabis onboard. Eight others were arrested along with him, who were charged separately.
Prosecutors accused Ralo of running a drug empire, having traveled twice California to bring a total of 964 pounds of high-grade cannabis into Atlanta—worth nearly $2 million.
An affidavit from an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (BATF) alleged that Ralo was the leader of a criminal street gang called “Famerica.” The gang supposedly sold drugs from several apartment units Ralo rented in Atlanta, collectively dubbed “Ralo’s Hood.”
Mission Green paints a very different picture. The group’s central figure, Weldon Angelo, told us that Famerica is a networking group for Ralo’s fans, and is completely above-board. Indeed, the Famerica.com website is openly selling merchandise related to Ralo and the Atlanta rap scene. This includes Ralo's new disc, entitled Political Prisoner.
And “Ralo’s Hood,” says Mission Green, is housing that the rapper, a convert to Islam, is making available on a subsidized basis to low-income members of the city’s Muslim community.
Ralo was denied pre-trial release as a potential flight risk. He was granted a $250,000 bond in July 2020, but before he could be released this was revoked—ostensibly on the basis of calls he made from his jail cell on a cellular device, which were construed by the court as arranging drug deals. Mission Green says the court had misinterpreted his street slang.
In March 2021, Ralo, weighing his options and hoping for clemency, changed his not-guilty plea to guilty. He will soon find out if his hopes were misplaced.
Double Standards in Cannabis Incarcerations
Several prominent rappers and celebrities have spoken out on Ralo’s behalf.
In March 2021, a group of such notables came together to pen an open letter to President Biden appealing for clemency in his case.
The letter reads:
On behalf of Terrell Davis and his family, we strongly urge you to grant clemency for Mr. Davis, who is serving federal time for non-violent marijuana offense. The undersigned—musicians, actors, athletes, filmmakers, current and former elected and appointed government officials, advocates, and business leaders—strongly believe that justice necessitates the exercise of clemency in this case. Our nation’s view of cannabis has evolved, and it is indefensible to incarcerate citizens based on the unduly harsh attitudes of past generations.
Signatories included Grammy-winning rapper and actor Drake, hip-hop artist and activist Killer Mike, NFL Hall-of-Famer and Super Bowl champion Deion Sanders, NBA All-Star John Wall, and several others.
Former US Rep. Kwanza Hall of Georgia also sent an open letter to President Biden urging him to grant Ralo clemency and end the War on Drug.
“During your campaign, you promised to decriminalize marijuana, release those who are still in prison for marijuana-related offenses and expunge the records of those with felony marijuana convictions so that they may go on to live meaningful lives... [Ralo] is very influential amongst young people throughout the nation and can be a very strong force for good working with myself and other justice reform advocates.”
Mission Green’s Weldon Angelo is himself a rap producer who worked with Snoop Dogg, and was himself sentenced to 55 years on a federal cannabis charge in 2004. He got clemency from President Obama after serving 13 years, and was eventually pardoned by Trump after passage of First Step sentencing reform act.
In April 2021, Angelo spoke with TMZ Live about Ralo’s case,“There are people making millions from selling tens of thousands of pounds in other states, and they’re not being prosecuted federally even though they both violated federal statutes. That’s why it’s so unjust to incarcerate some but allow others—mostly the elite and mostly older white men—to prosper while locking up people of color like Ralo.”
Angelo said he hopes the Biden Administration is “putting together some kind of clemency program like Obama did, and they’re gonna put marijuana in the focus. The people in there who are still locked up for marijuana are probably the most deserving group of offender, given that it’s legalized in more than half the country.”
→ Sign the petition to Pardon Ralo.