School-Subsidized Rap Group's Performance Raises Students' Ire

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:05pm EDT

( - Student government officials at the University of Maryland College Park are praising the administration's work to sign an "A-list" band to play on campus, but not all students are pleased with the decision.

Student Government Association (SGA) President Aaron Kraus campaigned last spring on the promise of signing a high-profile band to play on campus during his first semester as president, or he would resign. He came through on the promise last week, announcing that The Roots, a Grammy Award-winning rap/rock group, will perform on Nov. 14 at the university's historical Cole Field House.

But some students are questioning whether a band with repertoire including a vulgarity-laden tribute to convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal has a place at a university that dedicates itself to fighting so-called "hate speech."

The following is an excerpt of the unreleased "Mumia 911" song, which suggests violence against police and includes a racial slur against whites.

"I say, 'f*** the police,' cause they been killin us for years.
This ain't no free country, [blacks] get murdered for their ideas.
Free Mumia means all Africans let go,
Cause just livin' in the ghetto puts you on death row.
You don't know? You seen how they tried to do Assata
Till some real [blacks] organized theyselves and went and got'er.
Lotta [whites] verbalize if Mumia dies, fire in the skies,
But only time'll tell the truth from the lies."

In spite of slow ticket sales -- just one-sixth of the available tickets were sold in the first two days, according to the university's daily student publication the Diamondback -- Kraus has maintained that the band has broad appeal.

Kraus told the Diamondback, "The feedback I've been getting from students is quite positive," but has learned that several students, including other members of the SGA, have voiced their concerns to Kraus.

SGA legislator and junior physiology and neurobiology major Meg Hatfield said she and other members of the SGA were upset by the decision to bring "offensive" and "inflammatory" messages to campus and contend that The Roots does not meet Kraus' "A-list" qualification.

Of the band's music, Hatfield said: "Of course it's inflammatory, but that's all rap is these days, I feel. They are just another rap group in it for the cause.

"I see it as a cause to try to express themselves as a culture," she explained, "but by doing it in the manner they do, it causes reverse discrimination."

Hatfield asked: "Why is it okay to talk about the 'coming of the African American age?' If I talked about the 'Caucasian age', I'd be seen as racist and supremacist."

Kraus told that the band's performance is an issue of free speech. Kraus added that there was no way to please everyone, and "no matter who you bring, people are going to be upset."

University Media Relations Director George Cathcart told that the administration doesn't get involved in bringing bands to campus.

"[Student Entertainment Events] is entirely student-run. The bringing of the bands is entirely student-run," Cathcart explained, "and ... the administration would not get involved in telling the students what bands they could bring."

When asked if the administration would intervene in the case of "hate speech," Cathcart said, "I don't think that's the case." He said the university believes that "if the students turn to us [the administration] to make those decisions for them, they're going to regret it ultimately."

Cathcart said the university will get involved in instances of "hate crimes," but as far as bringing bands that promote "hate," it's up to the students to protest the bands.

Last month, university officials categorized anti-homosexual messages scrawled in a campus dormitory hallway as "hate crimes." According to the Diamondback, 98 "hate crimes" have been filed with the university police since September 2001.

Student Entertainment Events is funded by students' mandatory activities fees. Money is rationed out by the Student Government Association and goes to fund numerous student groups.

Representatives from Student Entertainment Events did not return calls requesting comment, but the SEE website calls The Roots "one of hip-hops [sic] most popular, versatile, and critically acclaimed acts."

Tickets to the concert are $14 for affiliates of the University of Maryland with a university-issued ID. Tickets for the general public are $28.

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