Rage and Sting:
The Show Must Go On
Notes on Defeating the Concert Police
Revolutionary Worker #1030, November 14, 1999
"Sting opened his mouth," said Chester Patrol Officer Ed McClellan, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge, explaining the latest F.O.P. attempt at art censorship. The words fly up and hit me in the face like white noise. It is the sound of stormtroopers--an ugly cacophony of brutality and stupidity. The Fraternal Order of Police [F.O.P.] are at it again--threatening to boycott and disrupt concerts in the Philadelphia area by Sting and Rage Against the Machine, because these musicians have dared to speak out against the execution of revolutionary journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal.
In 1995, Sting, an opponent of the death penalty, joined actors, writers, and musicians in signing an ad in the New York Times--demanding a new trial for Mumia. And, as readers know, Rage Against the Machine have expressed their strong support for Mumia--including a concert in January 1999, which the combined forces of shock-jock Howard Stern and New Jersey state police unsuccessfully attempted to stop. In early November 1999, TV appearances by Rage on David Letterman and MTV brought the cry of justice for Mumia to millions. And their new album The Battle of Los Angeles features a song about Mumia, titled "Voice of the Voiceless."
Now--for speaking out against injustice--these brave artists are being hounded and threatened by the official enforcers.
The story that emerges from the scraps of Philadelphia newspapers on my desk reads like an account of the brown shirts in Nazi Germany. As RW readers know, in August the national F.O.P voted to carry out a national boycott of those who speak out against the execution of Mumia. The F.O.P. cited more than 300 people, including Sting, Gloria Steinem, Michael Stipe of R.E.M., Alice Walker, Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer, Paul Newman, Danny Glover, Alec Baldwin, former U.S. Rep. Ronald V. Dellums, U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, film critic Roger Ebert, historian Henry Louis Gates, and Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.
Now, three lodges of the F.O.P. in the Philadelphia area representing hundreds of cops have threatened to picket the Sting concert on November 14 at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, and they are calling on police from throughout the area to join them. According to the Inquirer, Richard Costello, president of F.O.P. Lodge No. 5 in Philadelphia, threatened to boycott the First Union Center arena if Rage holds their scheduled concert there on December 6. "We'll target anything and everything that uses the First Union Center, including the Flyers and the Sixers and even the bank that built it," Costello said. While police claim that they will avoid direct confrontation with Rage fans, members of the F.O.P. in Delaware County said they were prepared to mobilize hundreds of off-duty police and supporters to disrupt the Rage concert. "We'd like to make it a traffic nightmare so that maybe people can't get there," Costello said. When the Daily News asked Delaware County F.O.P. Lodge president Joseph Fitzgerald who would keep the peace at the police demonstration, Fitzgerald reportedly giggled, "We would police ourselves, I guess."
The true meaning of this "self-policing" behavior is brought home by dozens of eyes staring at me from the pictures posted on my wall from the Stolen Lives Book. And my eyes wander to the bold type in a recent George magazine piece on Rage Against the Machine: "The issue is not cop killers--it's killer cops," Tom Morello says. I couldn't agree more.
Police censorship of the arts? Police punishment for opponents of the death penalty? Police targeting of concert venues? In the so-called land of so-called "free expression"?
As RCP Chairman Bob Avakian wrote, "The alleged freedom of expression in the `democratic countries' is a sham--because the ruling class has a monopoly on the means of molding public opinion and because this monopoly of armed force puts it in a position to suppress, as violently as necessary, any expression of ideas, as well as any action, that poses a serious challenge to the established order." And the F.O.P. is making this reality clearer by the minute.
For years, the Philadelphia police have intimidated night clubs and concert halls from holding concerts or benefit events for Mumia--carrying out a crude police censorship "under the color of authority." In 1995 a New York City theater event--where Giancarlo Esposito portrayed Mumia Abu-Jamal--was picketed by police, and police harassed the event with a phony bomb threat. These tactics went to a new level in January 1999 when New Jersey State Police Chief Carl Williams issued an open letter of protest to the national media that Rage Against the Machine and other bands were being allowed to hold a concert for Mumia. (This same Carl Williams later hit the headlines with an open defense of his state police's racist policies of stopping Black and Latino motorists based on "racial profiles.") Some months ago, police refused to do security on a film shoot because Whoopi Goldberg, who also signed the 1995 ad for Mumia, was on the set.
With the national boycott the F.O.P. is seeking to carry out this kind of intimidation on a national level. Buried in the news about Sting and Rage, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that police in Topeka, Kansas claim that they caused the cancellation of a concert by Harry Belafonte on September 27--because Belafonte signed a 1998 ad in the New York Times against Mumia's execution.
As the RW wrote in August: "Revolutionaries understand that the police are nothing but the armed enforcers of the monopoly capitalist class and its power structure. But under their own bourgeois laws they are not supposed to persecute people for their politics. When a police organization takes this kind of political action, they bring with it the threat and power of their office--and that is in direct violation of the so-called political rights of the people. This boycott cannot be allowed to stand...."
So, the F.O.P. wants to rumble...well, let's get it on. The show must go on...or to paraphrase the great Muhammed Ali: Rage like a bull, Sting like a bee!
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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