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Is this censorship or reciprocal courtesy?

    [Bruce Springsteen] reportedly aggravated city police by performing “American Skin (41 Shots)” – a song inspired by the 1999 shooting of West African immigrant Amadou Diallo by four officers.

    After Springsteen played the song during the Oct. 1 opening night, a high-ranking police official ordered that there would be no post-concert police escort for the Boss after his next show, the Daily News reported.

    ….Springsteen, through publicist Marilyn Laverty, declined to comment Wednesday on the report. NYPD spokesman Michael O’Looney, in a two-paragraph statement, danced around the issue.

    “As a courtesy, Mr. Springsteen was given a police escort to his boat at the World’s Fair Marina following the concerts on both Wednesday and Saturday night,” O’Looney said.

    He didn’t offer any comment on Friday night, but added that police had also provided an escort for E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg (news) from LaGuardia Airport to Shea on Wednesday.

    Springsteen didn’t perform “American Skin” at either of the last two shows. [AP]

Sure sounds like a quid pro quo to me: play the song – sit in traffic. I can understand the cops being a little touchy about this, but can they really justify such a blatant tit-for-tat?

Here’s a verse from the song – pretty good advice:

“41 shots
Lena gets her son ready for school
She says “on these streets, Charles
You’ve got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you
Promise you’ll always be polite,
that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight”

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About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted, Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.
  • I don’t like the word censorship in this case. I think it is bad form for the police to be playing tit for tat like this. The song isn’t a wide sweeping generalization about all cops being bad. He is providing commentary on a specific episode. I can understand that they don’t like it, but it isn’t undeserved criticism I don’t think.

  • Eric Olsen

    But isn’t the net result of this the same as censorship?

  • Censorship is telling him he can’t play the song. Saying you aren’t going to be the nicest guys in the world when he does something you don’t like, is not censorship. They didn’t refuse to work the show, they only refused to extend the COURTESY of the escort to the Marina, right?

    I would consider censorship to be them stopping him from playing that song.

    The net result is up to Springsteen.

  • Kev

    tit for tat???? It’s rediculous that he gets a police escort anyway. And just what does any of this have to do with censorship?

  • Actually, the word ‘censorship’ IS being used accurately here, something I rarely see in the blogosphere. People constantly throw around the phrase ‘freedom of speech’ without realizing that only the government can violate the right to free speech. Since the police are the government, this appears to be a violation of the Boss’ right to free speech. What the government has done is tell Springsteen that if he performs songs it doesn’t agree with he will not be protected by it. (Claiming the protection is a ‘courtesy’ is nonsense. If it is extended to entertainers who do not offend the police, they cannot legally exclude entertainers who do. People are entitled to equal protection regardless of the content of their material.) I believe the Boss, smartly, will have his attorneys check out what happened, and respond appropriately. Withholding protection from him is potentially actionable misconduct by the police department.

  • Eric Olsen

    First, I didn’t say it was censorship, I asked if it was.

    Second, have you ever driven in NYC? The guy generated literally million of dollars in revenues for the city with his shows there, he has just pured his heart and soul out for over three hours, there are 50,000 people jammed into the same area, and you begrudge him a police escort to get the hell out of there? So, yes, while technically it is a “courtesy,” it is also the norm under the circumstances, and to pointedly not provide it that one night was meant to send a very clear message: “don’t play that song.”

    Third, it’s “ridiculous” – as in worthy of “ridicule”

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks MD, you put it better than I did. and I agree with your stronger assessment the more I think about it.

  • Glad to help, Eric. I like to brush off the ole J.D. from time to time-:).

    Craig, let’s consider a hypothetical. The Boss is shot and killed on his way to the marina because his police escort was withdrawn. However, a month before, Ted Nugent performed and did get a police escort to the marina. The flimsiness of the police’s alibi falls completely apart because they obviously punished Springsteen for the content of his performance and rewarded Nugent for the content of his. Not to worry. I believe the police will get a clue about what they can’t do regardless of how they feel about an artist and return the police escort before anything that awful happens.

  • bhw

    I don’t know if it’s officially censorship or not, but it’s definitely a form of coercion. The NYPD didn’t like it when Springsteen played this song at Madison Square Garden on his 2000 reunion tour. They gave him all sorts of grief then, too. If only they’d listen to the words and hear that Springsteen is basically saying that race in America is a complicated issue and that maybe, just MAYBE, 41 shots at an unarmed man reaching for his wallet was just too many to ignore.

    At least Springsteen has the guts to address the topic. The NYPD wants to act like it doesn’t exist … and then punish anyone who disagrees with them.

  • I am not a lawyer and I am not a judge, but I have to think that the first amendment doesn’t apply to a courtesy service that the police provide. I am not saying that a police escort is unreasonable, but I wouldn’t think it is an absolute right given to the performer in exchange for services that he is getting paid for anyway. The police, while a government provided service are not making any law that prohibits him from playing the song. They actually didn’t force him not to play it.

    Like I said before, I still think it is poor form by the police, but technically and legally I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.

  • Something I forgot to add… I don’t think lawyers can really look into anything unless the police are legally responsible for providing an escort through traffic. I might be wrong, but I have to assume it is merely a courtesy and there is nothing in law that says he WILL have a police escort after the game. He gets paid enough at the show with a ticket price up and beyond $40 that he can either bargain for an escort with the venue or buy his own.

  • Well, I am, with a special interest in communications and the law, and I disagree, Craig. I believe you are making the mistake of looking for a blatant declaration of animosity toward Springsteen, i.e., an order not to play that song. That is not necessary under First Amendment analysis. Anytime the government does anything to ‘chill’ speech it is potentionally actionable. Punishing someone for the content of his speech is chilling. As I said before, the ‘courtesy’ alibi is crap. The people’s tax dollars pay for those escorts, they are not ‘courtesies’ in any way. Either the government can offer them to all entertainers of a certain stature, or it can’t offer them at all. Content of speech is verboten as the the deciding factor.

  • I am not presenting this with any animosity, but isn’t there a difference between imposing a “punishment” and choosing not to extend a service. By the way, I kind of doubt that every performer is afforded an escort in the first place. What are the factors that decide whether an artist gets an escort in the first place? Is that decision process at all arbitrary?

    My problem with this whole thing is that I can’t figure out how this escort thing is a given right of the performer. If it is an arbitrary voluntary thing shouldn’t they be able to arbitrarily take it away? Do you think they step up and give Marilyn Manson an escort when he sells 20,000 tickets?

  • Eric Olsen

    I believe the point is that once the courtesy is extended, to take it away because they don’t like one of the songs you perform is definitely “chilling” free speech. Whatever the rules are for who gets the service and who doesn’t – why did Springsteen get the service on two of the dates and not on one? The answer is that he was being punished for performing the song.

  • You and I both understand that, but I am trying to explore it from the technical/legal perspective because I don’t feel like legal action should be fruitful. Anyway, I guess I have been told that it would.

    Well, we do agree that it is horrible of the police to do that based on a song he played at the show. Plus that song was a highlight of the HBO special I saw a couple year’s back if I am thinking of the same song.