While there have been a number of incidents that caused considerable embarrassment for the New York City Police Department in past years, the incident that I consider to be the most damaging involved legendary music superstar Bruce Springsteen. In previous columns I made the statement, “A fish rots from the head down.” Well, it certainly applied in the situation with Springsteen. The position taken by the top brass of the NYPD created a storm of controversy, and they had no one to blame but themselves for all of the negative press they received at the time.
The president of the Police Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, launched a verbal assault against Springsteen, and an official from the Fraternal Order of Police, Bob Lucente, spewed derogatory and vicious comments about Springsteen after he sang “American Skin” at a Madison Square Garden concert. The song was in honor of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant who was shot 41 times and killed by three New York City police officers. None of the officers were convicted or reprimanded in the shooting. Lucente called Springsteen a “dirt bag” and a “floating fag!” Let me tell you something folks. They had a right to denounce “The Boss” for the song. It’s their constitutional right, and he had just as much right to sing it. However, there is a point that you don’t go beyond. If the song upset you, okay! Do your thing and protest, boycott or serenade him with a chorus of “Fuck you Springsteen!” As major reps for the NYPD,
the state of New York and this country, the one thing the official should never have done was call Springsteen a “dirt bag” or a “faggot”. Much to their credit, the NYPD brass eventually told Lucente to hit the road for his vulgar comments. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression, along with many others, that members of the NYPD served under the principles of courtesy, professionalism and respect. Do you seriously think, based on these comments, with the whole world watching, that people believed this to be the case? Give me one good reason why masses of people should not feel that the NYPD is biased against certain groups after this major public relations nightmare.
I’ll take it to an entirely different level by saying this. Many people have a problem with the Reverend Al Sharpton because they claim he has made derogatory statements about certain groups. That may be true, or it may a total fabrication, but like it or not, there is one major difference between Sharpton saying such things and the NYPD saying them. Sharpton can say them and get everyone all riled up, but after a while, no one pays that man any mind, and things go back to the way they were. When members of the NYPD “profile” a person as a “dirt bag”, and another high ranking official blatantly calls someone a “faggot,” we’re talking about people who at one time walked a beat and carried a gun. These same officials now represent officers that currently patrol communities of color. If this is their mindset now, as leaders and officials, Lord knows what their positions were when they were on the streets! Come on people. It’s time to get real here! They opened their mouths, exposed their quick tempers and hatred toward a certain group of people, and jeopardized the reputations of many outstanding and kind officers of the NYPD.
When are NYPD department heads going to realize that actions like this cause certain people to fear their officers? If these sentiments are coming from the top, it’s understandable why some people feel that it’s reflective of the entire force. That may be an incorrect assessment, but I’m not the one who put it out there for review. Oh, while we’re on the subject, let me also state that it doesn’t help when NYPD officials, Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch in particular, say that Springsteen was attempting to open old wounds with the song; that the trial is over; and people need to move on. Guys, the trial may be over for you, but the verdict lives, and it will remain, in the hearts and minds of not just African-Americans, but also those who have an intense fear and distrust of police. This is what you must come to understand, if you ever want to gain the trust of minorities and others that fear you. Stop being so damn arrogant and callous, for God’s sake!
I had a really hard time with the attack on The Boss. This is a man who played benefit concerts for the widows of slain police officers, and because he practiced a constitutional right awarded to all, the very people he has helped in the past attacked him in the most vicious and vile manner. That was straight up bull! I didn’t see Lynch calling for boycotts whenever gangster rappers appeared at “The Garden” and rapped about widespread corruption in the NYPD, or called for the killing of police officers, or voiced opposition over the killing of Amadou Diallo. I guess that was okay because it was just a few niggers blowing off steam, but when a major white celebrity brought it to the masses, they couldn’t have that! He might have raised a level of consciousness in white communities.
Personally, I’m glad Springsteen did it, and I’m elated over the fact that he met with Diallo’s parents shortly after the song was released.
Recently, in 2005, The Boss was dissed again when the grey-haired farts in Congress refused to honor him for his legacy and musical contribution to America because he was a staunch supporter of Senator John Kerry during the 2004 presidential contest. The move by Congressional members made no sense to me and millions of other people, and it proved once again that you will be punished on some level for exercising your constitutional rights in this country.
With regard to the Diallo incident, any intelligent person, with a sense of history, knows Springsteen did the right thing. It’s so funny to me because some of the high-ranking members who were angry with Bruce Springsteen are probably the same people who supported artists like Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin when they sang protest songs about the Vietnam War and other issues back in the 60’s! How screwed up is that? The NYPD made this an issue, and the only thing that’s going to happen is more artists are going to record songs, now and in the future. What will Lynch do then? Is he going to boycott every artist or group who might record a tribute to Diallo or other innocent victims of police shootings? If Diallo’s kin record a song and perform it at a concert, will Lynch and his posse ride into town and call the family members “dirt bags” or “faggots?” Somehow, I doubt that will happen. Thus, proving they were better off keeping their damn mouths shut.
If they had taken a more subtle tone, this probably would have gotten a marginal response at best. Instead, they fed the media beast and fanned the flames of controversy. These people are called artists for a reason. Directors, writers, actors and musicians will always find ways to infuse the tragedies of the human condition with their work. That is a fact. It’s been the case for years, and people from the shores of Malibu to the streets of Philadelphia know this. The Boss fucking rocks!