NEW YORK — As Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band prepared to play the first show of their tour-closing 10-night stand here on Monday (June 12), the rock icon's newest song, "American Skin," drew criticism from the city's mayor and police chief, even as civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton accused the song's critics of racism.
The unreleased song addresses the February 1999 death of Guinea
native Amadou Diallo, who was shot at 41 times by New York police
officers as he stood unarmed in the doorway of his Bronx
apartment building. After Springsteen debuted the song in a June 4
Atlanta concert, State Fraternal Order of Police President Bob Lucente
called the rock icon a "dirtbag" and a "floating fag," while the
president of another police group called for a boycott of Springsteen's
"If [Springsteen is] a dirtbag for having compassion and concern for an
unarmed man who was shot [at] 41 times, then obviously this man thinks
Amadou Diallo was dirt," Sharpton, a longtime activist and former
mayoral candidate, said from his Manhattan headquarters Monday. "It's a
dehumanizing and racist reference."
Lucente could not be reached for comment Monday, and Springsteen's
spokesperson also was not available.
New York Police Chief Howard Safir defended officials' criticism of
Springsteen in a press conference on Monday, saying that they're
entitled to express their opinions. "I personally don't care for
Springsteen's music," he added.
In the same press conference, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani also condemned
"Despite the fact that they were acquitted ... there's still people
trying to create the impression that the police officers are guilty," he said. The police involved in the shooting were acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges in February.
But Sharpton said Springsteen was "morally courageous," adding that the rocker was gaining new fans because of his song. "I salute him — I've never been a fan of his, but I certainly respect what he's doing now."
Jim Cullen, a Harvard instructor and author of last year's "Born in the
USA: Bruce Springsteen and the American Tradition," said that the
controversy over "American Skin," which is subtitled "41 Shots," is not surprising, given Springsteen's increasingly politicized stance.
"Springsteen has gotten much more assertive in recent years, so this
controversy can be seen as perhaps the inevitable consequence of someone who's becoming increasingly aggressive politically," Cullen said.
Springsteen publicly protested the anti-affirmative action California
Proposition 209 in 1996, and he wrote some of his most unambiguously
political lyrics on his most recent studio album, The Ghost of Tom
Joad (RealAudio excerpt of title track), which addressed poverty, child prostitution and other social issues.
In the past, Springsteen has written songs sympathetic to police
officers and in 1998 co-headlined a Red Bank, N.J., benefit concert for the family of a slain local police officer.