There has never been a figure as polarizing in the Houston hip-hop community as Carlos Coy, the man better known as South Park Mexican. In his heyday circa 2000, the local rapper's independent Dope House Records label sold millions of units, and "SPM" gave a voice to a generation of Southern and Southwestern Latino youths who found a home in hip-hop culture. To many of these fans, Coy remains a musical icon whose shadow continues to loom large over Latino-made hip-hop in Texas.
But to many others, he's a monster. In 2002, Coy was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a nine-year-old girl during a sleepover at his home. The rapper was sentenced to 45 years in prison and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. He'll be at least 52 years old before he's considered for parole.
That hasn't stopped Coy from maintaining his innocence, nor his family, friends and fans from advocating on his behalf. Often already deeply distrustful of the Texas criminal justice system, many of SPM's supporters claim that he's the real victim -- railroaded by corrupt and vengeful authorities determined to silence a Hispanic ex-drug dealer who was becoming a powerful and influential industry unto himself.
Now, 12 years after Coy's conviction, they're taking to the streets. Led by Carlos' sister and onetime Dope House Records GM Sylvia Coy as well as her fiancée, Tee Carroll, supporters are planning a peaceful march and protest on Friday to demand a retrial for South Park Mexican.
"The event was organized by a man named Carlos Martinez and a group of his friends," Carroll says. "They're from the Northside of Houston. They originally came up with the idea to protest the DA's office on October 5, which happens to be Carlos' birthday. But we ended up getting involved with it as it started picking up momentum, and we decided that to make the most out of this and get attention, it would be best to do it on a Friday, when people are actually in the DA's office, so we can draw the most attention possible to the cause."
So at noon on Friday (tomorrow), SPM's supporters are being asked to meet at Dope House Records HQ at 2121 Center St.; from there, the group will walk to the Harris County District Attorney's office at 1201 Franklin. A peaceful protest is planned for 1-3 p.m., with a mixer to follow back at Dope House.
"We hope that the district attorney and some of the judges and some of these people will hear our call and hopefully grant my brother a retrial," says Sylvia Coy. "My brother was accused of this heinous crime, and it seems that the verdict was a bit of an overkill: 45 years with not a shred of physical evidence that anything had ever happened."
The lack of physical evidence presented by the prosecution is only one of many problems with the 2002 trial that SPM supporters have. Ms. Coy and others say that the charges were based on hearsay, and that the prosecution's case consisted almost entirely of the young accuser's testimony -- which included a statement that the assault might have been a dream.
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Some point to a distinct lack of Latinos on the jury, while still others have accused the victim's family of greed or extortion. In 2002, the accuser's mother filed a civil suit on behalf of her daughter against Carlos Coy seeking monetary damages .
"It was strictly by hearsay that he was convicted," says Ms. Coy. "[But] that's not the reason that I'm even protesting for the retrial. I'm protesting for the retrial because there was a lot of injustice done in the courtroom the day of my brother's trial."
Whether the authorities will agree with her remains to be seen. Critics may point out that South Park Mexican has a new album that was released this week, titled Son of Norma. Or that Sylvia Coy, who says she's "not on payroll" at Dope House Records, has an SPM-inspired clothing line called Freedom X (rhymes with "free da Mex"). A cynical reading of events might lead some to believe that the Day of Unity event could simply be a marketing tool intended to promote these and other products.
But one thing is for certain: The "Free SPM" movement does not appear to be going away, even more than a dozen years since the rapper was incarcerated.
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