February 2, 2015 4:00 pm

Police Unions: Anti-Cop Rap Should Kill Funding

Target Bronx Legal-Aid Group


PATRICK J. LYNCH: ‘A deeply-disturbing video.’  

Fo’ Mike Brown and Sean Bell a cop gotta get killed.
Cuz I’m black, police think they got the right to shoot me.
No jail fo’ them, their punishment is death’s duty.
They’re either killin’ us or throwin’ us in the cage.
Martin Luther King is rollin’ ova in his grave.

These lyrics are from the music video “Hands Up,” released late last year as a purported tribute to Eric Garner, a petty criminal who died of a heart attack after officers wrestled him to the ground when he refused to be arrested for allegedly selling loose cigarettes.

Less than 45 seconds into the five-minute video, the rappers who made it, Uncle Murda and Maino, are shown holding guns to the head of a white actor playing a police officer. Most of the rest of it is devoted to video clips and dramatizations of white officers beating and shooting black men.

Unions Not Amused

The video has infuriated some of the city’s police unions. Patrick J. Lynch of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Michael J. Palladino of the Detectives’ Endowment Association and Roy Richter of the Captains’ Endowment Association all denounced it.

They particularly questioned the role of Bronx Defenders, a legal-aid group that receives substantial city and Federal funding.

The Department of Investigation said it began looking into the situation after learning of the video. It issued a report Jan. 29 faulting two lawyers for Bronx Defenders and the organization’s executive director, Robin Steinberg.

Mayor de Blasio, reacting to the report, signaled trouble ahead for Bronx Defenders. “The Department of Investigation’s findings are deeply disturbing,” he said in a statement. “Any endorsement of violence against police officers is completely unacceptable and will absolutely not be tolerated...The administration has demanded Bronx Defenders take immediate action in response to the findings of DOI. Unless those actions are fully responsive to the serious issues raised here, the city will take all legal and contractual actions available to it.”

PBA: Shut ’em Down

After reading the report, Mr. Lynch called for Bronx Defenders to be shut down. “It is clear that Bronx Defenders [staffers] who knowingly participated in this despicable video calling for the murder of police officers have violated their oath as officers of the court and should be disbarred as a result,” he said in a statement. 

“Furthermore, the DOI investigation has uncovered that the Bronx Defenders, an organization heavily funded by taxpayers’ dollars, is clearly fostering an anti-police atmosphere and as such, we believe they should be shut down immediately and permanently.”

Before the report came out, he sent one letter Jan. 23 to Mr. de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and City Comptroller Scott Stringer and a second to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

“The video...includes multiple depictions of guns being held to a police officer’s head and includes lyrics repeatedly calling for the murder of police officers (‘a cop to get killed’),” he wrote. “The video first appeared online in early December 2014, only a few weeks before the assassination of Police Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu by a gunman whose online threats against police officers bore a striking similarity to language used in the video.”

Wants ‘Defenders’ Cut Off

Of the legal-aid group, he wrote, “The Bronx Defenders’ role in spreading this dangerous message must not pass without a complete investigation and appropriate action by any governmental organization that plays a role in appropriating funds to this organization or that collaborates with it in any way

...Not a single additional cent

...should support the parties who played a role in this video.”

“According to data from the Office of the Comptroller, the Bronx Defenders was awarded city contracts in excess of $41 million during the past two fiscal years,” Mr. Lynch wrote to Mr. de Blasio, Ms. Mark-Viverito and Mr. Stringer.

To Mr. Holder, he wrote, “According to Federal spending data, the Bronx Defenders has received $1.5 million in Department of Justice grants since 2009 under grant programs named for slain New York City Police Officer Edward Byrne, a fact that we find disgraceful to P.O. Byrne’s memory and to the programs named in his honor.”

“Some of the footage in the video was filmed at the offices of Bronx Defenders,” the DOI report said. “Kumar Rao and Ryan Napoli, two Bronx Defenders attorneys who proposed the organization participate in the video despite their awareness of the lyrics advocating killing police officers, appear in the video.”

‘Serious Misconduct’

The report found “serious misconduct” by the two attorneys, who it said objected to using a slang term for a sex act but not to the recommendations for violence against cops. It also revealed “gross mismanagement” by Ms. Steinberg, who said she was not informed about the lyrics about murdering police officers although they were made available to Mr. Rao and Mr. Napoli.

The two attorneys told DOI they had assurances from the producers that Bronx Defenders could edit the video before it was released, but it was not shown to them. Ms. Steinberg said nobody at the organization saw the video in advance.

DOI said Ms. Steinberg should have reviewed the lyrics and inquired about the backgrounds of the rappers (Uncle Murda had made other songs referring to the killing of police officers).

‘Lack of Accountability’

“Additionally, Steinberg’s response to the release of the video revealed a lack of accountability for the organization’s involvement,” the DOI report said. It said an initial public statement and an exchange of e-mails with other city officials “gave the misleading impression that Bronx Defenders had unwittingly become associated with the song and video.” It also said she should have disciplined the two attorneys.

The report was forwarded to Elizabeth Glazer, head of the Mayor’s Office for Criminal Justice, and Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter for further action.

“Advocating the killing of police officers is unacceptable and offensive,” DOI Commissioner Mark G. Peters said in a statement. “These attorneys have abysmally failed to meet their obligations to their clients, to the courts and to the city as a whole.”

Before the DOI report was released, the legal-aid organization released a statement saying, “The Bronx Defenders truly regrets having been involved with the ‘Hands Up’ video. Our organization does not condone violence against the police. The video was released without the Bronx Defenders’ authorization or approval. Since the video’s release, we have made numerous attempts through our attorneys to have the video taken down. We will continue in our efforts to remove this offensive video from the Internet.”

Ms. Steinberg did not respond to a request for comment.

DEA: ‘Sponsoring Trash’

“That video materialized at a time when there were threats against police officers” in the wake of a grand-jury decision not to indict an officer who had tackled Mr. Garner, Mr. Palladino said in an interview. The decision resulted in weeks of protests. At the time, he said, he had warned his members to be extra-mindful about their personal security.

The video “encourages violence against, specifically, white police officers,” he said, adding that it was particularly disturbing “to see officers of the court sponsoring their trash.” Bronx Defenders “seems to be going through some sort of identity crisis, behaving like their clientele,” he said.

Mr. Richter told WPIX that the video is “disgusting, it’s purely disgusting. I think any video that advocates violence against police officers especially, is something where the makers of that video should be held responsible for it.” As for Bronx Defenders, he said the video “should affect their license to practice in the State of New York.”

Uncle Murda told Channel 9 news that the unions’ complaints were “over-exaggerated.”

“I think the PBA needs to be investigating the cops in these deaths of these black unarmed men and getting to the bottom of that instead of worrying about what is being said in a rap video,” he said.

The lyrics seek to make a statement, not to encourage violence against police, he said. The image of the two men holding guns to a police officer’s head is not meant to encourage violence either, he said.

“The cop didn’t get shot, the actor didn’t even get shot,” he said. But he added that other images in the video were “real-life things, like police punching females in their face repeatedly. You see them punching a kid that’s in cuffs.”