Police Censorship Targets Rage

Revolutionary Worker #925, September 28, 1997

The police music censors have been hard at work again--this time trying to keep radical rock and rap out of Washington state.

Sheriff Bill Wiester announced that Rage Against the Machine and Wu-Tang Clan should be banned from performing at a September 12 concert in Grant County, Washington, several hours drive southeast of Seattle. Similar attempts at censorship were mounted against Rage in Boise and Salt Lake City last year. Rage's lead singer Zack de la Rocha recently said that the band has faced threats of government cancellation since the beginning of their current Rage/Wu-Tang tour.

Stephen J. Hallstrom, the chief deputy prosecutor of Grant County, joined Sheriff Wiester's call for censorship. Hallstrom filed formal court documents on September 5 calling for a cancellation of the Rage concert scheduled for the Gorge amphitheater. Hallstrom argued that this censorship plan had to do with potential security, sanitation and traffic problems. His court documents accused the owners of the Gorge amphitheater of a history of "mismanagement" of previous rock concerts, like last month's Lollapalooza. In fact, this talk of traffic and sanitation problems is a thin cover for deliberate and politically motivated police censorship. Sheriff Wiester specifically called the attention of the court to what he called the "violent and anti-law enforcement philosophies of Rage Against the Machine and Wu-Tang Clan." The Seattle Times reported this as a police attempt to shut down "a group known nationally for its politically charged performances."

Wiester also mentioned that he had assigned a detective to contact police departments nationally about their experiences with Rage Against the Machine.

Police M.O.

This Washington state attempt to suppress the Rage/Wu-Tang concert follows a now familiar pattern of police-inspired censorship. A similar police campaign was launched against the concert tour of Ice-T after the release of his rock album "Cop Killer."

Police have been targeting politically radical artists, especially those who take on police brutality and murder. They have launched national campaigns against such artists by "putting out the word" through official police liaisons or through Fraternal Order of Police networks. Local governments have been repeatedly told by their police that "there might be trouble" if these artists are allowed to perform. Then local officials often get into the act, citing "security concerns" as an excuse to suppress performances by artists the police don't like.

This is exactly what happened in Grant County. Commissioner Helen Fancher publicly endorsed the Sheriff's call for cancellation saying, "As I understand it, the Sheriff's Department has done a lot of investigating of this group and found that there was a tremendous amount of disobedience and near-riot conditions at their shows. When they have head bangers and this heavy rock and they advocate disruption, it introduces an element into our county that just doesn't exist here." Francher's talk of "introduces an element into our county" is a fairly blatant use of racist code words that are often heard in connection with attempts to cancel rap concerts. Fancher said the county government would welcome musicians like Yanni and Rod Stewart into the amphitheater.

Rage singer Zack de la Rocha told Rolling Stone that this tour will "incorporate everything which the rich, wealthy classes in America fear and despise." On tour, Rage Against the Machine and Wu-Tang Clan have taken public stands against police brutality. During their August 20 concert in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Zack de la Rocha told the crowd that their tour was being attacked by officials in various localities. He then talked about the importance of taking a stand against the police torture of Abner Louima.

"You gotta be the jury. You got the power. Make it happen," de la Rocha told the crowd of more than 20,000. "It's up to you to put that fascist cop in jail." As thousands of fists went into the air, he added, "Don't let them get away with torturing this Haitian brother!"

In the Chicago stop of this tour, the Wu-Tang Clan rapped in front of a beautiful stage set of a ghetto scene that included a lifesized cop car crashed into a store window. At that same concert, the Rage set opened with the stage drenched in ruby-red lighting while symphonic strains of the Internationale, the revolutionary anthem of the working class, washed over the raised fists of the crowd packed into the Tinley Park amphitheater. From that lofty beginning, the band ripped into their relentless music of "hardline, hardline after hardline."


In Washington state, the police failed to have their way. Two days before the September 12 concert, Grant County Superior Court Judge Ken Jorgensen rejected the cancellation requests of the Sheriff's Department. However, the hearing was used to extract promises from Universal Concerts, the concert promoters, that they would work closely with Sheriff Wiester in controlling the people. After the hearing, Wiester announced that his department would mobilize police from other police departments for a "no tolerance policy" to harass and control the people at the concert. They arrested 53 people at the concert. Under pressure from the Sheriff, the concert promoters doubled the usual number of rent-a-cops to 240 inside the amphitheater. The private guards were ordered to prevent reporters from taking notes or interviewing anyone attending the concert. Television cameras were refused entrance.

Despite all the pressure, this concert was held as scheduled--though Wu-tang Clan didn't appear for reasons unrelated to the police controversy. After opening with The Internationale, Rage kicked straight into their version of NWA's notorious "Fuck tha Police." In your face. In the band's encore, Zack called out the County Sheriff. "So, Sheriff," Zack said over the mike, "You think you can intimidate us? There are so few of you and there are so many of us. There ain't nothing more frightening than a pig with political aspirations. We take it as an insult that he calls us violent because everyone knows the police are out of control." Then the band kicked into "Killing in the Name."

The Artists Network of Refuse & Resist! released a statement which said in part: "This is a victory, but the fact that Rage's right to play was challenged at all--and particularly on overtly political grounds--is an outrage. The Artists Network of Refuse & Resist! condemns this attack on the band and on its audience, which includes millions of youth who have been inspired by Rage's uncompromising stand for justice. Artists who do not go along with the program of strict obedience to authority are more and more becoming a target of open censorship. They are banned from venues, their lyrics attacked, their record companies threatened. Particularly in the hip hop scene, this has become a regular practice, and is part of the whole agenda of repressive politics riding high today. It must not be tolerated anymore."

It is extremely dangerous when the police appoint themselves the official censors of music and culture. Their moves represent open attacks on the culture of resistance and need to be exposed, opposed and defeated.

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