NY Cops Boycott the Boss

Police groups call the Boss a "dirtbag" for his song addressing the Diallo case.

By Mark Armstrong Jun 12, 2000 8:10 PMTags
Bruce Springsteen is ruffling the feathers of New York City's finest--just in time for a 10-night stand at Madison Square Garden.

Two New York police groups are urging their members to boycott the Boss tonight because of his new song, "American Skin (41 Shots)," written about last February's NYPD slaying of unarmed West African immigrant Amadou Diallo.

Diallo, 22, was hit with 19 bullets and killed as he stood in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment building. Springsteen's haunting melody, which he began performing last week, plays over the refrain, "41 shots"--the number of times four New York police officers, who were later acquitted of any criminal wrongdoing, actually fired at Diallo.

In a letter to fellow members, Patrick Lynch, president of the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said Springsteen's new tune is decidedly anti-cop. The group is now urging police not to attend Bruce's shows--and to turn down private-security gigs for the concerts.

"The title seems to suggest that the shooting of Amadou Diallo was a case of racial profiling," Lynch writes. "I consider it an outrage that he would be trying to fatten his wallet by reopening the wounds of this tragic case at a time when police officers and community members are in a healing period."

Others were a tad less diplomatic. Bob Lucente, president of the New York chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police--the nation's largest police organization--told SonicNet that Bruce has turned into a "dirtbag," and despite his history of great songs, that Springsteen is a "floating fag." Um, okay.

(Lucente later apologized for his "floating fag" remark...but not the "dirtbag" part.)

Springsteen's "American Skin" lyrics are targeted directly at the Diallo case, telling the story of a mother warning her child about the dangers of the street ("Promise me if an officer stops you'll always be polite/ Never run away and promise mama you'll keep your hands in sight") and mentioning Diallo's wallet--which the officers said they mistook for a gun:

"Is it a gun?/ Is it a knife?/ Is it a wallet?/ This is your life/ It ain't no secret/ It ain't no secret/ Ain't no secret my friend/ You can get killed just for living in your American skin."

Bootlegged versions of the song from Bruce's Atlanta show are already making the rounds on the music-swapping site Napster. Springsteen's camp has not commented on the boycott.

But he's not the first to address the Diallo tragedy in song. Public Enemy have a song called "41:19." Rappers such as Mos Def, Rah Digga and Kool G. also mourned Diallo's death on the EP Hip Hop for Respect, which raised money for a non-profit group fighting police brutality.

But will the new tune turn those rabid "Bruuuuce" chants into genuine boos during his New York stint? Fans have flooded discussion sites, both condemning and supporting Springsteen for his stand on the Diallo case, while continuing discussion on the controversial incident.

"I come from a law-enforcement family, and I am personally insulted at the implications in '41 Shots,' " one fan writes at Rec.music.artists.springsteen. "Though I don't agree with Bruce's politics, I love his music, and I will be in attendance at several of the shows despite this recent episode. [But] I will not clap or stand for '41 Shots.' "

Others, however, say the song shouldn't be taken as anti-law enforcement--but anti-tragedy. Still others condemn the police union for getting mixed up in the issue to begin with.

"It's their job to protect Bruce, his fans and the public--NOT to get involved in politics," one fan writes. "Artists and everyone else have the right to free speech no matter what form it takes."