By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Surveillance was conducted at major events like Hot 97's Summer Jam concerts. "We were in the parking lot. We compiled photographs, tapes," says Parker. Asked whether wiretaps were employed during any investigations, Parker says, "In order to get wiretaps, you have to have really big cases, but yes, those were some things that we did down the line. I'm not going to lie to you. I'm dealing with you straight up; we did a lot of stuff and if it warranted us to do something where we had to video or film or do things, then we did it. It all depends on the case."
Franklin finds this practice unjustifiable. "I think he's only within his job to do something about these situations if he has specific evidence that these people are engaged or involved in something," he says. "Otherwise he's giving rationales and excuses for witch hunts."
Murray Richman, an attorney who represented several rappers in high-profile cases, including Jay-Z and DMX, offers another perspective. "I don't want to make the police big bad guys, because they don't think they are and they don't do it for bad reasons. They do it for all the reasons that we want," he says. "But those reasons may indeed be wrong. So don't make it into a situation [of] 'us against them' or 'them against us.' It may be a series of misperceptions and it should be stopped before these misperceptions harden into an attitude of real hostility."
Chuck Creekmur, a journalist with bet.com and allhiphop.com, says the policy sounds racist and bears a striking similarity to Bush's "preemptive strike" doctrine. Rappers should also be smarter, he says, about how they behave. "Sometimes you make it easier for them to do stuff to you," says Creekmur.
Parker makes a similar assertion. "If it just so happens that we are looking around and we see you and you're carrying a gun, then shame on you," he says. He maintains there are many misconceptions about his work. First, neither the outfit in which he worked nor the current investigators are a "task force," he says, but a couple of officers within a larger intelligence unit. "We were based in a warehouse building with other private companies to make it look like we were just an office, a covert-type location within the five boroughs."
Also, he warns, the police that rappers may see around them are not always specifically connected with the intelligence unit. "There are other units that are on too [including] various undercover unitsthat are on the rappers," says Parker.
"There's this one guy from [the former] Street Crimes [unit]; he makes a lot of arrests of rappers. . . . It's like when you want to go fishing and you know there's trout in the water. All you got to do is hang out by these events and you know that you'll get somebody with a gun or something. He got Jay-Z. He got 50 Cent. Same Street Crime guy," says Parker. "The only reason he gets his stuff is that he's knowledgeable enough to go where events are and just observe. It's not like he's in any kind of unit where he's profiling them."
Whether it is a squad or individual officers, many in the Hiphop arena are disturbed by the surveillance, and the number of arrests in the rap community underscores the concern. Since 1996, there have been several arrests of rap superstars, including 50 Cent, Jay-Z, B.I.G., N.O.R.E., and Fabolous, under questionable circumstances that fuel suspicions of profiling. "This is the same excuse they used back in the '60s or '70s for COINTELPRO," says Franklin on the rationale of gathering info to prevent crime. "We think these activists are dangerous. We think they are going to do a, b, c."
Parker responds by stressing that the unit was not concerned with Hiphop culture as a whole, but specifically watched the criminal element that aligned itself with rap stars. "I knew if you ran with a certain guy, there was bound to be trouble somewhere or there was bound to be something happening," Parker explains. And there were legal obligations. "We couldn't just look at everybody as a whole, but we could look at people who had criminal records or got arrested before."
Benjamin Muhammad, head of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN), isn't convinced. "What the history of intelligence and counter-intelligence law enforcement has shown is that innocent people wind up getting dossiers, getting their phones tapped, [getting] targeted for unjust and illegal searches," he says, "and at some point, somebody is going to get hurt." HSAN, he says, is "going to take legal action against police departments for violating the constitutional rights of Hiphop artists."
Parker says that countless incidents that never made the papers led to the surveillance. "You had three major murders [of rap icons] and I can honestly tell you thisyou have over 100 incidents in different boroughs where [rappers] have either been the victims of crimes, or they've assaulted someone. There's been robberies, shootings, stabbings . . . a number of things that you had to be concerned about."