Music To Kill By?
A gang-related CD is pulled from local music stores, First Amendment notwithstanding.
Thursday, December 24, 1998
To even the most casual observer, G.U.N.--or "Generations of United Norte¤os"--seems like a pretty nasty CD. On the cover is a photo of young men sporting the red bandanas emblematic of the northern California Norte¤os gang, flashing gang signs and looking belligerent. Inside are songs calling for unity among all Norte¤os gang members, and advocating violence against the rival Sure¤os, the state''s second largest Hispanic youth gang. The CD was produced six months ago in Modesto by an underground company called North Star Records (get it? North Star, Norte¤o, the route illegal immigrants take from Mexico to the Promised Land?)
According to anti-gang activists, the CD even includes a phone number you can call for more information on how to join your friendly local Norte¤os chapter.
Ever since the CD was released in May, it''s "sold millions," according to Brian Contreras, director of the Second Chance Youth Program in Salinas. He and other community activists have been trying to convince local music stores not to carry it. Most stores complied, he says. Sam Goody was the lone hold-out--until last week. On Friday, following a protest at the chain''s Capitola store, Musicland Stores Corp., Sam Goody''s parent company, agreed to pull the CD from the 20 or so stores in northern California where it was being sold, "until we can review it," according to Musicland Senior Vice President Marcia Appell.
Does community protest help? Sure does, Appell acknowledges. "Some community groups contacted us and voiced their concerns, and we felt it was within the realm of reason to listen to [the CD] again," she says. (Visualize it: a bunch of Midwestern music execs sitting around corporate headquarters, tapping their toes to "Kill the S-O-Bs." Boggles the mind.)
Contreras is happy it''s out of the stores. Watsonville Police Chief Terry Medina, who briefed participants in Friday''s Capitola protest before they went out, is pleased. So is Linda Perez, of Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance, who led the protest. "This CD is very explicit about Norte¤os killing Sure¤os, and we can''t allow that in our community, where so many young people are victims of gang violence," she says.
But wait a minute--this is a CD, right? Isn''t there a moral, and legal, distinction between singing a song about shooting someone, and giving a gun to someone to go out and do it?
"It seems to me this is a clear case of censorship," argues local ACLU activist Richard Criley. Noting that he hasn''t heard the CD personally, Criley says it "seems to be trying to get people to join a gang, not pick up a gun." And even if it does do the latter, he says, "it probably falls within First Amendment protection." If the CD were "a clear and present danger," he says, "it might arguably not be protected by the First Amendment," but Criley says that in his many decades of work with the ACLU, he''s never heard of any piece of music that in his opinion fell beyond the pale of Constitutional protection.
It''s a tricky question, Contreras agrees. "This is not the only gang CD out there," he notes. "It''s in a long line of CDs that are coming out. Everyone has freedom of speech, so what do you do? Educate the parents to yank it away and throw it out!"
Not everyone who buys the G.U.N. CD is doing it to support gangs, he adds. "It''s got some catchy tunes, a good hip-hop/rap thing, I''ll be honest with you," he admits.
But still, Contreras concludes, there''s something worse about this particular CD than all the other nasty ones. A qualitative difference. "The thing that makes this one so wrong is that it''s blatant," he explains. "The others don''t focus strictly on gang stuff. But the G.U.N. tape is strictly a recruitment and mobilization CD--why you need to be a Norte¤o, why you should recruit more people to it, why we need to unite."
Does advocating joining a gang push a CD beyond the bounds of legality? And on that basis, can a store be prevented from selling it? Not really, says Capt. Rick Moore of the Salinas Police Department investigations unit. "Whether a store likes to sell this is their own moral decision," he says. "We are not in the business of regulating what''s commercially available. We are in the business of regulating the criminal conduct this type of thing promulgates."
Basically, Moore admits, his hands are tied. He doesn''t like these CDs, and he doesn''t like to see stores sell them. "It''s akin to selling a book that teaches you how to make bombs," he says. "It''s localized terrorism, especially given the kinds of crimes we''ve been seeing in Salinas, where they prey on innocent people."
But if there isn''t a law, there''s still community pressure. And that''s Perez''s business, as a member of BASTA, Pajaro Valley''s Inter-Agency Anti-Gang Program. While she''s not out protesting the sale of every gang-related CD on the market, this one makes her boiling mad. "It supports a specific gang that exists in our community and explicitly calls for violence against another local gang," she says, noting that the G.U.N. insert lists all 104 California cities where the Norte¤os operate, including Watsonville, Salinas, Gilroy, Monterey and Seaside. It''s just too close to home, she says. "This music could cause bullets to fly in communities all around the Monterey Bay."
Marcia Appell says Musicland has pulled similar albums and CDs from its shelves before, "not frequently, but on occasion." But just because they''re reviewing G.U.N. today, that doesn''t mean they won''t decide to sell it again tomorrow. "When other music stores were approached, they immediately took it off the shelf," Perez says. "We received resistance from Sam Goody. They said it was business. We wanted to let them know it was bad business." cw