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Bruce wronged over song, NYCLU says

October 9, 2003

The New York Civil Liberties Union has criticized as dangerous the possibility that the Police Department canceled a security escort for singer Bruce Springsteen because he performed a song criticizing the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo.

In a letter yesterday to Commissioner Ray Kelly, the group's executive director, Donna Lieberman, wrote that displeasure with the song "cannot be a basis for granting or denying department services."

"The government cannot extend or withdraw benefits to individuals or groups on the basis of the government's disapproval of the content of speech," Lieberman wrote.

"It would be a dangerous thing if the availability or nature of law enforcement services turned on the NYPD's approval of the message of those speaking out on important public controversies such as the Diallo shooting," she added.

Lieberman sent the letter after Chief of Department Joseph Esposito reportedly dropped Springsteen's police escort after he sang "American Skin (41 Shots)" at his Oct. 1 concert at Shea Stadium. Four police officers fired 41 shots at the unarmed Diallo in 1999, hitting him 19 times.

Springsteen did not play the song for the next two nights, on the second of which the escort was restored.

Springsteen's spokeswoman, Marlyn Laverty, did not return a call when asked why the singer did not play the song for the next two nights.

Esposito did not return a call to his office.

Michael O'Looney, a police spokesman, said in a statement yesterday that neither Springsteen nor his band members made a formal request for an escort.

"On Wednesday night, as a courtesy we escorted drummer Max Weinberg from LaGuardia Airport to Shea Stadium because he was running late for the show," the statement said.

"Also as a courtesy, Mr. Springsteen was given a police escort to his boat at the World's Fair Marina following the concerts on both Wednesday and Saturday nights. There was no charge for any of the escorts," the statement said.

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© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.