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So much confusion, so much hype, so much of it old hat to those of us in this hotbed of censorship called Miami. It's not something that would normally be addressed in this space, but when Florida's largest retailer of recorded music bowed to a very small minority and joined a boycott of Time Warner by pulling the album Body Count from shelves late last week, it seemed it would be a public service to mention a couple of relevant facts.
Many people think Body Count is a rap album. Many people think it's an Ice-T album. It's neither. It's a heavy metal album by a band called Body Count that consists of black musicians, including lead singer and lyricist Ice-T, who has released several solo albums in the rap genre.
In America, 35 police officers were killed in the line of duty between March and the beginning of July in 1991. During the same time period this year, while Body Count's album has been on the market, 37 cops have lost their lives on the job, according to the American Police Hall of Fame and Museum. So much for the argument that music kills.
But even so the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas set about in early June to force Body Count's record, which includes a song called "Cop Killer," off the market. CLEAT was the first to call for a boycott of Time Warner. Other police groups joined the outcry, and record stores began pulling Body Count. Even Oliver North and his Freedom Alliance chimed in, saying Time Warner should be prosecuted for sedition. He will take his argument, via Coral Gables attorney Jack Thompson, to the Time Warner shareholders' meeting in Beverly Hills tomorrow.
Those shareholders should be celebrating the boycott. The album was languishing, with about 250,000 units sold, until CLEAT and the others complained. "It had started to stall," says a spokesman for Sire Records, the rock group's label and a Time Warner subsidiary. "There's been a definite increase in sales since the controversy, and it's approaching gold now, which is 500,000 units. In excess of 450,000 units have been sold, and it's still selling. So you could say [that since the boycott] sales have almost doubled." In Houston, where the call for a boycott began, sales of Body Count have reportedly increased 370 percent.
At Spec's corporate headquarters the matter of making money was never considered when it came to Body Count. Last Thursday the executives at Spec's gathered and openly discussed the dilemma. "Lots of debate," says special projects coordinator Jamie Knapp Phillips. "There's general agreement in the nation, an outcry across the nation, and we, as responsible corporate citizens, need to recognize that and respond to it."
Spec's decision to join the banning already initiated by most of their competitors came at an unfortunate time because just two days earlier a few people had picketed at the Spec's store in Lincoln Road Mall. "The Associated Press wire indicated that we responded to the picket," Phillips says. "That's totally false." The irony remains: Spec's is conducting a register-to-vote drive this month, is involved in a number of other projects that delve into the political arena, and has always sold music that Phillips herself found offensive to groups such as the disabled, minorities, and women.
What if the tables turned and Warner Bros., a super-giant among labels, decided to no longer service those stores that refuse to carry a particular release? "I can't answer that," Phillips says. "And that didn't come up in our debate. Warners has given us no response, which is part of the problem. It puts us in a bind."
Among the early bailouts were Peaches, Sound Warehouse, Camelot, Coconuts, and Tracks. David Jackowitz, executive vice president at Peaches, said he couldn't say how the company reached its decision to censor Body Count, nor could he say why that decision was reached. He did say Peaches pulled the record a few weeks ago, returned it to stock, then flipped again this past Friday and pulled it again.
Landa Miller, a Dallas-based spokesperson for Super Club Music, parent company of Tracks, explains that her company pulled the album after the governor of Alabama joined the call for a boycott. "We have stores in that state," she says. "We decided to pull it nationally. We have 300 stores all in the South and Southeast. We don't consider it a boycott or ban, but a choice we made because of all the attention. We're a family-oriented organization and we strive to maintain a family type image. It's not a First Amendment thing -- we believe in free speech, we believe in artistic expression. But all this attention brings the potential for negative influence. If we were the only source, that would be different, but the album is available elsewhere."
A spokesman for Camelot had no comment about anything.
Spokesmen for Sound Warehouse and Coconuts declined, or were unavailable, for comment.
Law enforcers are not calling for a boycott of Time Warner. A few police groups are. Other law enforcement entities are opposed to the notion.
Seven years ago Carl McGill became a member of the LAPD, where he is currently a patrol officer. He says he was held back from promotion twice because he is black. Officer McGill is also president of the four-year-old African-American Peace Officer Association. "As someone who was a victim of police brutality before becoming a police officer," he says, "I see that Body Count did not target police officers literally. The song is attacking police brutality. For members of law enforcement to get on television with their uniforms on and advocate a boycott is a violation of the law enforcement oath. Our job is to protect the rights of every person in the United States as guaranteed by the Constitution. Freedom of speech is a First Amendment right, and it's not our place to infringe on that. We can't support any type of violence, but we can recognize the fact that to boycott a song is very nonproductive as far as what the problem is. Until law enforcement addresses brutality, we'll have songs like `Cop Killer.' In reality the boycott is another act of police brutality."
Ronald Hampton, a uniformed patrol officer in Washington, D.C., for the past 21 years and the director of national affairs for the National Black Police Association, backs Body Count and the band's First Amendment right of free expression. "We're not going to participate in the boycott," he says. "Police brutality is the real problem and has been. The people's anger and frustration existed long before Rodney King and the trial of the police officers [who were charged with beating King]. You see, police organizations are strange. If the song were about the postman or bus driver getting killed, they wouldn't have anything to say. Hypocrisy. Where is the expression of outrage about other issues that affect the people they work for, the citizens of this country? To all of a sudden raise this is very selfish."
On the other hand, a deputy police chief in Toronto, where cops are threatening a lawsuit to force the banning of Body Count, told a newspaper there, "If this song is popular, it's got to be a direct reflection of just how sick our society is becoming."
Phyllis Pollack, an L.A.-based publicist who's represented a number of confrontational artists including Ice-T, and who was told by one reporter, much to her surprise, that her friend Ice-T is a white man, says, "White kids go see Body Count in concert. That leads to a discussion, the kids talk to their parents about Rodney King. And the parents say, `Yeah, you're right. What happened was wrong.' That's what scares the authorities. It's only when whites come into it. Body Count's album came out in March. Where are all these dead cops?