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Compton Rappers Versus the Letter of the Law : FBI Claims Song by N.W.A. Advocates Violence on Police

October 05, 1989|STEVE HOCHMAN

Charbonnet explained that when Priority received the letter in August it was decided not to make the matter public. A copy was given to Phyllis Polack, executive director of the anti-rock-censorship organization Music in Action, who had long been a supporter of the group. She shared the letter with Marsh, her partner in Music in Action.

Asked why he didn't make the letter public earlier, Marsh said he did not want to make it public until he had investigated it. Marsh's story on alleged government involvement in censorship appears in the current issue of New York's Village Voice.

Charbonnet said that throughout a summer concert tour N.W.A was faced with attempts by local police departments, alerted to the "---- Tha Police" lyrics through a "fax campaign," to stop the group from performing. Local police feared, she said, that the group would incite violence against police officers. In several cities, N.W.A members met with local media to tell the public and police that they their fears were exaggerated.

The song itself, Charbonnet said, was not part of the group's concert repertoire, and "whatever the worst fears were, nothing happened." The only incident occured in Detroit on the last date of the tour last month when the crowd created a disturbance by chanting the song and the group left the stage. Later that day, the group was detained briefly at their hotel by police investigating the disturbance, but no arrests were made.

In an interview last March, N.W.A member Ice Cube, who wrote the lyrics, maintained that the song is a "documentary" presentation of life in Compton, not a call for violence.

About the song in question, he said, "There is a lot of resentment of police because if you are black you get picked on a lot. They see you in a car or with a beeper and they assume you are a dope dealer. The song is a way to get out aggression. We're not really urging anyone to go out and attack police."

To the ACLU's Goldberg, the letter may do "more harm than good" in stopping violence against police. "It reinforces the notion among minorities that the government is against them. (N.W.A) is a positive role model about how you can get out of poverty, and then the FBI writes them a letter.

"The result is to add to the feelings of alienation and separation from society, and those are the things that give rise to violence. . . . Rap is one of the most positive role models, a positive way for poor people using their energies, making art and poetry out of their social dilemma. They should be applauded by the police."

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