By Nick Martin, Tribune
November 30, 2006
Six times a week during November, a television show produced by Tempe police aired on the city's cable channel showing a white police officer telling two black men they could get out of a ticket if they performed a rap.
On Thursday, Tempe's mayor and police chief apologized for the show, suspended its future production and the chief launched an investigation after black community leaders voiced outrage and
disappointment over it.
"On behalf of our city organization, I apologize to the entire community for this clear misjudgment and I will expect that we will perform at a much higher level," Mayor Hugh Hallman said late Thursday. "This video is unacceptable."
Both the mayor and Chief Tom Ryff were responding to ire from leaders of two minority-rights organizations: Rev. Jarrett Maupin, president of Arizona's chapter of the National Action Network, and Rev. Oscar Tillman, president of the Maricopa County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Both leaders were made aware of the video Wednesday by the Tribune. The chief and mayor both said they had not seen the show before Thursday.
The segment at issue of "Tempe StreetBeat," which followed several police on patrol, showed host Sgt. Chuck Schoville pulling over two men in August in the parking lot of the Arizona Mills mall. He first asks for a name and ID from the driver.
"You know how much the fine is for littering?" Schoville asks the men, who have stepped out of their car. "About 500 or so. Criminal arrest and all that other stuff."
The scene then cuts to Schoville's proposition: "No littering ticket if the two of you just do a little rap about what do you want to do a rap about? Littering? About the dangers of littering. OK."
The two agree and each perform a short rap, laughing afterward. Schoville tells them to have a good day.
Before they go, Schoville says, "Raiders in the Super Bowl this year."
"You're right," the driver of the car said among other muffled words.
"You know I'm right. You know why you say I'm right?" Schoville jokes.
"Because I've got a gun and a badge. I'm always right."
All three laugh and rock music soon fades in.
Maupin, of the National Action Network, was wide-eyed after watching a DVD copy of the exchange.
"Do these individuals (in the department) know that they played into every negative stereotype of African Americans and the police?" he said.
"We don't all speak hip hop," he added later.
Maupin called for apologies from the mayor and chief and for an investigation into the show.
Tillman, of the NAACP, said apologies alone would not satisfy his outrage.
"I don't want your apology," Tillman said. "I want you to show me in your training and show me in your future" that things can change.
Both said that not only was the rap request stereotyping the men, but the joke at the end of the segment was dangerous.
"It's the most dangerous statement that a law enforcement officer can have at a time when we're looking at what happened in New York," where police officers this week shot an unarmed black man 50 times, killing him.
On Wednesday, police spokesman officer Brandon Banks, who was the credited producer of the show, defended it and said footage that was cut shows Schoville originally told the two they would not receive a ticket, then asked if they would rap for the cameras. Banks and a cameraman were with Schoville when the scene was shot. The extra footage was cut for time considerations, Banks said.
Schoville himself did not respond to a request made through the department to comment.
"Rev. Tillman and Rev. Maupin are the ones who are asserting that it's stereotypical and I don't see it as such," Banks said, adding later: "It was done in absolutely good-natured good fun and the people
involved were all in agreement."
No one previously came forward to complain and neither of the men complained either, Banks said. "They have the complete right and freedom to walk away at any point."
The two men could not be identified. Because they were not given a ticket, Tempe had no record of their names.
For now, the city's top officials are expressing regret the incident ever happened and that it made air.
An investigation will be conducted by the police internal affairs unit and city's diversity manager, Ryff said.
"I would like to offer my sincerest apologies to members of our community who may have been offended for our airing of this program as well as the conduct of our officers," he said.
When Maupin learned of the apologies and investigation late Thursday, he responded: "Thank God."
Tribune writer Garin Groff contributed to this report.