N.J. Police Investigated For Gangsta-Style Rap Videos
Narcotics officer Maurice Gattison, pictured, raps in the videos, flanked by three friends, all decorated township officers, The Star-Ledger reports. The videos are now restricted on YouTube, but in the clips posted on the Star-Ledger, Gattison repeatedly uses a gay slur, and refers to himself as a "felon for life." At one point he appears with a gun on his hip, while his buddy waves a medieval mace.
Free Speech Or Improper Conduct?
It's standard fare for a rap video -- but still not standard behavior for law enforcement. The department is currently conducting an internal investigation, but the video has already ignited a debate over free speech, and what cops can do in their off-duty hours. Gattison, for one, doesn't understand the controversy, explaining to The Star-Ledger that he's been rapping since he was a teenager. "I could see if I was targeting somebody, but it's just lyrical exercise," he said.
UPDATE: March 13 -- Gattison is in fact bewildered by the controversy, telling the Star-Ledger in a follow-up article that he doesn't think his "singing a song" is newsworthy. He never intended to be homophobic, he explained. His use of a gay slur was simply "me adapting to the rap culture."
"If I was at a karaoke night and singing a Tupac song would it come under question then?" he asked the paper.
Wayne Fisher, the former deputy director of the state division of criminal justice, agrees. "If they had taken part in a Shakespearean play, and the character talked about murdering people, would there be outrage?" he asked The Star-Ledger. Others aren't so laissez-faire about Gattison's hobby. Joseph Santiago, the police director, stated that officers could be disciplined for off-duty behavior if it "creates the impression that its members may not be able to fairly enforce the law." Mayor Wayne Smith was more blunt, telling The Star-Ledger that there would "corrective action."
Getting Fired For A Hobby
Scores of individuals have been disciplined and even fired in the past few years for things they've done in their free time, because the Internet has made so much of it visible. Educators and police officers seem to end up in hot water most often, because their reputations and values are so critical to their work.
Last month, for example, a Bronx junior high school principal came under fire when his old rap videos surfaced, where he cavorted with busty babes under the name "El Siki." Last November, a Dallas police lieutenant was placed on leave after allegedly producing an expletive-filled rap video under the name "Lucille Baller." Last week, a police department in the Catskills, N.Y., investigated two officers for appearing in a rap video that extolled the virtues of drug use.
But why rap videos have become the controversial hobby of choice appears to be just another mystery of the universe.
This story has been updated to include comment from Maurice Gattison.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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