The growing flap over rapper Ice-T's song "Cop Killer" moved into the chambers of the Los Angeles City Council and the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday as both bodies approved measures to suppress sales of the rap album that includes the controversial tune.
Despite objections that they were acting as censors, the City Council called on entertainment conglomerate Time Warner Inc. and retailers to discontinue sales of Ice-T's "Body Count" album. In a separate action, the supervisors voted to write a letter to Warner Brothers Records condemning the song and called for a boycott of the album.
The actions were the latest in a series of protests nationwide by police organizations and politicians. At least one large regional record chain has already pulled the album from its shelves.
"Cop Killer" is an expletive-filled condemnation of police that includes the lyrics "I'm 'bout to dust some cops off," and "Die, die, die, pig, die!"
In approving a motion by Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, the City Council rejected arguments by civil libertarians that the action infringed on the 1st Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech.
"This is not about 1st Amendment rights," said Flores, who is running for Congress. "It is about social responsibility. The guarantee of free speech in the Constitution is not a license to say or do whatever you might want, regardless of who it hurts."
Council members supporting Flores insisted that the action does not amount to censorship, because the council had only requested--not ordered--compliance from the record company and retailers.
"I think we need to speak up," said Councilman Hal Bernson. "This is our 1st Amendment right to free speech. We need to say to companies like this, 'Take some responsibility and do the right thing.' "
Flores was joined in her appeal by the widow of a Los Angeles police detective murdered in 1985. "I wish someone would explain to me why the glorification of someone killing a police officer is something for Ice-T and Time Warner to be proud of," said Norma Williams, whose husband, Tom, was shot to death in retaliation for his testimony against an armed robbery defendant. "I can't believe that Time Warner and its shareholders would allow this sort of filth to go out to the public."
Williams said the song would inspire further violence against police.
Time Warner officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but the company previously refused to withdraw the album that includes the song. Banning the song "will not make violence and rage disappear," the company said in an earlier statement.
Flores also requested that profits already collected from the album be donated to inner-city athletic organizations and to widows of slain police officers. The council did not act on that suggestion.
Flores' motion was approved on a 10-4 vote, with council members Ruth Galanter, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Rita Walters and Michael Woo dissenting. They argued that even a request for voluntary removal of the album put the council dangerously close to advocating censorship.
"Government has no business telling artists what they can write or paint or say," Galanter argued. "I also deplore (the song), but it is not the council's place to dictate freedom of expression."
Woo suggested that the council approve an alternative motion that would simply "deplore" works of art that "glorify violence against police officers or any other individuals."
The council majority accepted Woo's motion, but as an amendment that left Flores' initial action in place.
At the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, Supervisor Deane Dana led the campaign against the rap song.
Dana called for the board to send a letter to Time Warner "strongly calling on the company to withdraw (the song) from public sale." Dana's motion urged the company to "invoke good sense in evaluating not only profitability, but public safety as well."
But Dana's hopes of pulling the song from store shelves were countered by Supervisor Gloria Molina, who said the supervisors were not elected to be censors. Instead, Molina called for a boycott of the Ice-T recording.
"That's a way to tell people we don't appreciate what they are peddling," said Molina.
The board ultimately agreed to write to the recording company condemning the Ice-T song, and called on the public to boycott the recording.
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