Officers refuse to work for band

Police reject overtime in arena over act's support of police killer

November 30, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police officers refuse to work overtime to provide security for a band playing at the downtown arena Thursday because the progressive rock group has donated proceeds to a convicted police killer in Philadelphia.

More than 3,000 city officers heeded a plea by Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 3 not to sign up for 10 positions at a Rage Against the Machine performance at the Baltimore Arena, giving up about $150 each in overtime pay.

The city-owned arena will have to use its security or hire outside help. Extra officers will be ordered to patrol streets outside the building as part of their regular duties, as is routine for such events.

"The department is obligated at this point to provide exterior security only," said police spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr. "It is the responsibility of the event host to maintain interior security."

Edie Brown, director of public relations for the privately managed arena, said, "The arena does not sit in judgment of anyone's political policies. The promoter's job is to bring concerts in. He does not take a public stand."

The concert is nearly sold out, with 12,000 people paying $25 each for tickets. "We will have more than adequate security," she said.

Proceeds given to defendant

Rage Against the Machine has played in several cities on its latest tour without incident or protests by police, Brown said. The band has given portions of its proceeds from concerts to the legal defense fund of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, was convicted of killing Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner during a traffic stop in 1981 and sentenced to death.

On Oct. 26, a federal judge stayed his execution, 13 days after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge signed his death warrant, opening the door for Abu-Jamal's bid for a retrial. He argues that his trial in 1982 violated his constitutional rights.

Trial called `travesty'

Members of the band could not be reached for comment. Their Web site defends their stand, saying that their benefits are "not to support cop killers, or any other kind of killers," but are to help Abu-Jamal get another trial to try to prove his case. They call his first trial "a travesty."

The band uses loud music to drive home a political anti-establishment message, with songs such as: "Killing in the Name" and "Bullet to the Head."

The local promoter is David Geller, one of five board members on Mayor-elect Martin O'Malley's inaugural committee. O'Malley, who takes office Dec. 7, has been a supporter of the police union and made a strong commitment to policing a part of his election campaign.

"I promote concerts and events," said Geller, who also runs the Lava Lounge at the Inner Harbor. "That is my business." He said he employs four city officers each night at his club, and supports police causes.

Free-speech claim

Geller also said he does not know whether proceeds from the Baltimore show -- one of many stops on the group's three-year tour -- would be given to Abu-Jamal's defense fund. Geller is promoting the show for Washington-based I.M.P., whose co-owner, Seth Hurwitz, said Rage always gives a portion of its earnings to charity.

"We have something called free speech in this country," Hurwitz said. "Rage Against the Machine would certainly not do anything to threaten public safety, and I'm sure that the police would not either."

Officer Gary McLhinney, FOP president, said he decided against a public protest by the widows of city officers killed in the line of duty out of fear for their safety and to avoid giving the band "any more attention."

But the union leader said a stand was necessary. "I don't see why we should subsidize this band," McLhinney said.

Leaders of the Police Memorial Fund, which is raising money to build a tribute to officers killed in the line of duty, said they were offended by the concert.

Money raised by the band, their statement says, "has been used for defense attorneys to find legal loopholes to delay the execution and helped to provide a forum for Abu-Jamal to protest that he is a political dissident, when he is nothing more than a cold-blooded killer."

Voluntary police action

The refusal by officers to work overtime is strictly voluntary. Such available assignments -- which must be approved in advance by the department -- are routinely posted or announced on the police radio.

Officers are free to sign up as long as it does not interfere with their regular duties. Such assignments include providing security at city pools, concerts, baseball games and block parties.

The city usually provides officers at taxpayer expense for large events. The Baltimore Orioles pay overtime to all officers working inside the stadium. The city pays for officers on traffic control duty outside, which is part of their regular shift.

Weinhold said he did not know how many officers will be stationed outside the arena, but said they would be assigned from Central District patrol and the tactical unit. He described it as "routine" and done "depending on the nature of the event."

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