Pontiac, Mich., police propose ban on rap concerts

Friday, September 4, 1998

City officials in Pontiac, Mich., say they plan to consider new ways to control rap concerts — possibly even banning them from city-owned venues — after a fight broke out last Saturday at the Silverdome.

Pontiac police said fighting broke out minutes into a concert by performers from rapper Master P's No Limit Records label. Although members of the performing groups stopped the fighting, some fans started throwing chairs about 15 minutes later.

The fight resulted in three arrests, eight ejections and the evacuation of about 8,500 fans.

“It will be one of our suggestions — based upon what happened Saturday and the conduct that has been known to occur at rap concerts — that the city bans all rap concerts,” Police Sgt. Conway Thompson told the Detroit Free Press. “The type of music they perform entices violence.”

Pontiac Mayor Walter Moore said the city might consider such a ban but would look at other means to ensure safety at the concerts.

In an official statement released yesterday, Moore said: “We are not opposed to rap music but rather the negative connotation implied through the inappropriate action of a minority of attendees.”

Moore said the city's goal is safety and not censorship.

“Due to our experience with this genre of music, it would be most appropriate for us, as a city, to establish guidelines in order to better serve the needs of such events,” Moore said. “While it is not our intent to 'censor' any particular type of music, we have a duty to provide a safe environment for our public.”

An official with the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said her group is willing to post a legal challenge if the city tries to target rap or any other music genre.

“We certainly view this as a censorship issue,” said Wendy Wagenheim, the group's legislative director. “The First Amendment rights of musicians and of any American to create music and to perform music of our choosing is something the ACLU will try to protect.”

Wagenheim described reaction from Moore and the police as “knee-jerk.” She said the city and the concert venues have many options to provide safety at concerts other than prohibiting them.

Saturday's fight wasn't the first violent episode at the Silverdome. Last month, a Detroit man was sentenced to a year's probation after being convicted of misdemeanor aggravated assault for punching a man during a Detroit Lions football game last fall. In December 1996, a massive fight broke out during a Lions-Minnesota Vikings game.

Asked the difference between violence at a football game and at a rap concert, Moore told the Free Press: “I don't think people go to a football game looking to fight.”

Wagenheim said fans don't go to concerts searching for fights, either. “I think there are many events where there is some kind of violence,” she said. “Anyone who has attended a Red Wings game can attest to that.”

Wagenheim noted that the Michigan Senate recently rejected a bill that would have enabled local officials to tag concerts as “harmful to minors,” thus allowing them to restrict attendance for minors.

She said this latest incident could fuel efforts to introduce the bill again in the upcoming legislative session.

“We're not finished with that yet,” she said. “I fully suspect that we'll see that in September when the new legislative session begins. I'm afraid this is a trend we will see more and more. I don't think it registers [with] some of them that there is even a Constitution.”