I’ve waited awhile to write about the Provincetown Banner article headlined, ‘Witness says chief flew into rage at local restaurant?’ because it was troubling and I wanted to figure out exactly why I was troubled.
When we read a newspaper article we know we don’t always get the facts as they happened. Most of us are too sophisticated for that. We realize there are many sides to an issue, especially when witnesses are involved; we know that even the reporter is not absent a point of view. But it’s impossible not to come away from any article without a perception. And absolutely true to the facts or not, the perception of reading about a police chief at a bar, in a rage—or simply livid; the word used in a supportive letter to the editor the following week—over a song, is not good.
Nor is that troubling perception confined to Provincetown, in spite of the letters defending the Chief and his own dictum “end of story.” There’s at least one town on the Cape that people refer to as a speed trap and another whose police are commonly thought of as rude. Will this keep people from visiting those towns? During a summer heat wave? I doubt it. But how about a Sunday drive in autumn? Or a weekday splurge on lunch with drinks during cabin fever season? I know I have a choice where I spend my money and I don’t do it in a place where I feel uncomfortable. Would I, as a visitor, care one bit if a DPW worker or a town accountant was known to be short-tempered and fly off the handle? Of course, not. But cops are a different story. Cops can ruin anyone’s day, especially a visitor’s, and anyone reading the story of a police chief (I’m quoting here) “flying into a drunken vulgarity-laced, tyrannical rage” and “threatening the bar tender” has got to come away with a perception.
To be sure, there have been many letters defending the Chief. But every person who reads the June 6 article will surely ask questions according to his or her own concerns. Some might wonder why the Town Administrator, who was finally sparked to conduct an inquiry, initially took offense with those who merely expressed concern, referring to them, again as quoted, as “certain members of the community who continue to attempt to degrade our professional police officers.”
Others might wonder why a professional police officer, knowing that bars and alcohol are kindle for accusation and rumor, would even subject himself to potential trouble.
My own concerns were personal. I’m a writer, an artist, and I have to ask, Could my own, or anyone’s work, instigate that much anger? From a chief of police? In a town with a reputation for art and freedom and intellectual tolerance?
Again, according to the article, the source of the police chief’s “tantrum” was a protest song by a gangsta rap group, incidentally listed on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It’s not a pretty song. It uses the language of the neighborhood. (And yes, many minorities use the insults of the majority amongst themselves to express an ironic camaraderie.) There’s a reason the rapper Chuck D called hip hop the Black CNN.
Like angry protest songs before it, classics such as Masters of War and Strange Fruit it’s metaphorical and over the top, a bleak message with the intent to educate, inspire, and motivate change. It’s a most unfortunate irony that a police officer hearing a song protesting the violence of police officers is alleged to have reacted violently.
According to the article the bartender wrote a letter apologizing for playing the song on his i-pod and this is the most troubling part…do I have to censor my i-pod in Provincetown?
It has about 2000 songs and I immediately erased I Shot the Sheriff and just to be safe, Officer Krupke. You have to wonder what other works of art should be banned so as not to offend the police. Would the local theater company, for instance, have to think twice before putting on the drama A Steady Rain? It starred Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig on Broadway and at the time had the highest weekly gross in Broadway history, but the subject matter is two bad cops. What about movies? The Departed. LA Confidential. Training Day. Same subject, same risk.
We’re all used to over-the-top art works producing outrage. Sometimes the work really does seem outrageous, like the recent story of the New York City MFA candidate prevented from debuting a project consisting of 68 vials of his own semen. But political art is the most outrageous of all because it poses the biggest threat: a challenge to those who hold the power.
I admit these are hypersensitive times. With the Federal Government riffling through our email and phone calls; with corporations pushing legislators to enact laws that punish whistleblowers who report corporate wrong-doing, many people are worried about losing the freedom to express ourselves. I just never thought it would happen in Provincetown.
I’m Ira Wood…and that’s my opinion.