For months now, the members of Leftover Crack, a punk band known for songs like “One Dead Cop” and “Nazi White Trash,” have been complaining that the police have been pressuring night club managers to block their performances.
Police officers in Brooklyn visited several club managers and threatened to shut down their clubs if they allowed the often controversial band to perform, says Bill Cashman, an associate of the band who has helped book their shows.
Last week, the NYPD finally did something about the complaints. The department opened an internal affairs investigation into the allegations and on Sept. 8 sent two detectives to Cashman’s house to interview him, he said. (An NYPD spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.)
Oddly, the visit from detectives came just after cops arrested Leftover Crack lead singer Scott Sturgeon on Friday for—no kidding—throwing donuts at the police during a demonstration outside the 9th Precinct in the East Village. Sturgeon says he was pissed off that the cops wouldn’t let the band play their music at a reasonable volume.
In the complaint, Officer Richard Labore wrote that Sturgeon’s antic “caused people to express alarm.” Labore also wrote that Sturgeon was chanting “kill the police, kill the police.”
“I admit my behavior was juvenile,” Sturgeon says, “But the issue is a real free speech issue. We’ve been harassed by the cops for a long time.”
The arrest of Sturgeon sparked a melee in Tompkins Square Park—what would New York City be without the odd melee in Tompkins Square—that led to the arrests of three punkers for rocking a police car and jumping on the hood. At least one of the kids was tasered during the skirmish.
Sturgeon himself faces disorderly conduct and harassment charges, says his lawyer, Martin Stolar.
The saga of the strange little battle between the members of Leftover Crack and the police goes back years, even before September, 2001, when the band burned a model of the World Trade Center and caused an outcry.
“It’s like performance art,” says one booking agent, who requested anonymity for fear of drawing police attention himself. “It’s a clever kind of pushing the envelope. Leftover Crack does invite a lot of scrutiny but they do serve a necessary role that should be protected by the constitution.”
According to Cashman, there have been at least three shows that were cancelled after police made an appearance.
Back in 2003, at a now-defunct club called North Six, police showed up after a fan posted fliers promising a pyrotechnic display “in tribute to those who died.” Coming just after 100 people died in a fire at a Rhode Island nightclub, the police and fire department were not amused.
Uniforms from both agencies showed up in force and shut down the club. An expired occupancy permit kept the place closed for a couple of months, forcing a number of cancellations. As a result, Cashman says, skittish club owners, put off by the band’s politics and afraid of the wrath that may follow the punk rockers, were hesitant to book the musicians.
By 2007, Leftover Crack was playing more regularly. But just before a show at Club Europa, several officers showed up and threatened to shut down the club if the band played. The venue cancelled the show. (A call to Club Europa for comment went unreturned.)
Officers arrived again at a Leftover Crack show at Club Exit five months later. This time, they came to the door and, according to friends of the band, explicitly said they were looking for Leftover Crack. Although the show went on as planned, plain clothes cops monitored the event inside and outside the club according to Dan Oestrich, a friend of the band.
Most recently, cops crashed the debut show of Star Fucking Hipsters, which includes Sturgeon and another Leftover Crack member. The show took place at an underground club in Williamsburg. One day before the show, cops showed up and demanded the gig cancelled, Cashman says.
Cashman found a bar in Greenpoint, which happened to be owned by an ex-cop, willing to host them. They kept the location a secret, and invited only prescreened fans. But six plainclothes officers showed up anyway for a “random house inspection.”
“They interrogated me for over an hour, asking me about Star Fucking Hipsters,” Cashman said.
They also took names of anyone who came into the bar, as Cashman and Oestrich loudly protested. Meanwhile, Sturgeon, who was warned not to come to the bar, called his fans and relocated the show again, this time to McCarren Park. Star Fucking Hipsters ended up playing their debut show as an acoustic set to a crowd of about 30. Their last song that night: “One Dead Cop”
The controversy came up again at Friday’s protest at the 9th Precinct, only this time it was over how loud the band could play. The police issue sound permits for outdoor events, but according to village gadfly John Penley, the department initially wouldn’t accept the protesters’ application for a sound permit.
Penley filed papers with the federal court, and the NYPD agreed to review the application.
Penley filed a second set of papers when the department set a limit of 70 decibels at 50 feet for the show. “Just turning on the sound system puts you over that level,” Penley says.
Following a hearing, the judge accepted the city’s argument, and let the 70 decibel limit stand, but suggested the protesters had a legitimate claim of selective enforcement.
Friday’s protest was supposed to be about “police brutality.” About 150 people were there along with a very large police contingent.
Leftover Crack played one song, and Cashman was immediately warned by the police that they were over the noise limit. The band started its second song, “Burn the Prisons,” and again, they were over the limit. Cashman cut the sound himself to prevent the police from confiscating their equipment.
Cashman says the police are applying a double standard to Leftover Crack, and effectively taking away their freedom of speech. “For them, they strictly enforce the rules,” he says. “But for other performances, they don’t. The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, the Theater for a New City, the recent performance by the Undead, were all way louder. No one was there from the police enforcing it. They just want to keep our shows quiet.”
Star Fucking Hipsters are planning a record release party on September 27 at Tompkins Square Park, and, as ever, they expect the cops will be there, too. “I don’t want anymore problems for anyone,” said Cashman. “I’ve contacted my lawyer and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”