The NYPD Rips Up Rappers

Rebel Diaz and their hip-hop politics run afoul of the cops

"Yeah, they were pains in the asses at certain points. They got involved with some police action," said Detective Martin Speechley. "Two wannabe hip-hop guys decided they didn't like someone being written a summons. And they got involved, and they tried to fight us, and they went to jail for it. Kind of what happens when people are idiots."

This is not how the police usually talk about arrests, but take it as an indication of the kind of animosity that simmers barely beneath the surface these days. The attitude is troubling to Norman Siegel, the civil-rights lawyer who is representing the brothers. "The middle-of-the-night visit by NYPD is very questionable," he says. "We have to get answers to who ordered it, and what was the rationale."

One fan of the group who spread the word about the arrests is Mark Naison, professor of African-American studies and history at Fordham University. Naison met the brothers when they were performing at a Bronx high school a few years ago. This year, he took Rebel Diaz to Berlin to perform at a conference and in immigrant neighborhoods. "Their 'Which Side Are You On?' is the most powerful use of hip-hop for politics I have ever seen," says Naison. "These are extraordinary young people."

Naison introduced the group to Nancy Biberman, director of the Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation, which hopes to create a community center for Rebel Diaz in a new low-income housing complex that will open this fall at Intervale Avenue and Southern Boulevard. "These guys are sensational," says Biberman. "They seem to be able to pull in the most disaffected young people and get them on track." Which is something you'd imagine that police wouldn't have a problem with.

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