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New York Police Gang Unit Targets Hip-Hop Community

The New York City Police Department has a message for the city’s hip-hop community: we’re watching you. Based on what it claims is a “culture of violence” in the hip-hop world, the police’s gang intelligence unit has begun watching nightclubs frequented by celebrity musicians.

Police are also compiling a dossier on rappers and others in the music industry with criminal histories.

“It would be ignorant for us to ignore the fact that there have been violent incidents where the only common denominator is the music industry,” police spokesperson Sgt. Brian Burke said Friday (April 20). “In an effort to ensure the safety of individuals in the music industry as well as other additional victims, we’ve initiated this effort.” The effort – first reported Friday morning by the New York Post – began this year, according to Burke.

A police source said the 1997 murder of the Notorious B.I.G., in Los Angeles, and more recent incidents allegedly involving Shyne, Jay-Z, Lil’ Kim and Lil’ Cease led authorities to launch the campaign.

Burke said the effort is meant to protect rappers from becoming victims of crime as much as it is intended to prevent what police see as music industry-related violence.

“We monitor clubs and nightlife to prevent future acts of violence and to prevent persons from the music industry from becoming targets or victims,” he said. “It’s not just hip-hop; it’s the entire music industry.”

No arrests have resulted from the police effort, according to Burke.

Jay-Z and three members of his entourage were arrested last week outside a nightclub after police allegedly found a gun in his bodyguard’s waistband. Since then, sources close to Jay-Z, as well as a witness to his arrest who is unaffiliated with the rapper, have suggested the arrests appeared to be a “set-up” resulting from police surveillance.

But Burke denied any connection to the force’s hip-hop campaign, pointing out that the officers who arrested Jay-Z were members of the street crime unit, not the gang intelligence unit.

Murray Richman, the Bronx defense lawyer who has represented Jay-Z, DMX and Jamal “Shyne” Barrow, declined to comment on a possible connection between the police initiative and the Jay-Z arrest. But he predicted that the news of the initiative will provoke a backlash.

“I think it is racial profiling at its worst,” Richman said Friday. “What they’re saying is that they’ve designated a group who are performing a legitimate function in life – to wit, entertainers – as a group they’re watching for criminal activities. It is absolutely fascistic in its nature and orientation. It is a violation of every constitutional right I can think of.”

Peter Frankel, a defense lawyer who has represented Ol’ Dirty Bastard and other members of the Wu-Tang Clan, as well as members of the Fugees, Mobb Deep and Run-DMC, called the police initiative “unbelievable.”

“Since when are rappers organized crime? What they’re saying is that even though there are a thousand different artists, all of whom perform rap music, they’re pulling them all together and saying they’re the same,” Frankel said. “What they’re really thinking is all rappers are thugs and criminals and as a result they’re going to start profiling them.”

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