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Two lawyers from the nonprofit criminal defense organization The Bronx Defenders resigned last week after they briefly appeared in an online music video. The song is called "Hands Up," which contains some anti-police lyrics and the suggestion that black men aggrieved by racial injustice should kill police officers.
File this one under either "It seemed like a good idea at the time" or "We should have demanded to see the lyrics first."
The Bronx Defenders provides legal services to indigent residents of the Bronx in New York City. Its office appears for about two seconds in the video, but its association with the content of the video led to a firestorm of criticism.
Inspired by recent events in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, the video rightly criticizes the problem of unarmed black men being killed by police, which is the focus of most of the lyrics and images. On the other hand, the video seems not to know what it wants to say about the issue, as at least two lyrics call for violent retaliation:
Time to start killing these coppers
If Malcolm X was alive, he'll be next to me with them choppers [slang for a machine gun]
Staring at a cop who got death in his eyes
He want to kill me, I can tell, so my hands in the sky
I'm stressing so I'm grabbing my Mac 11
Told my mamma I'm a end up on Channel 11
Leaving in a box or they'll take me away
Put away my Glock and I bought me a K [slang for an AK-47]
The video is also introduced with a "trailer" that shows two of the video's rappers pointing guns at an apparently unarmed white police officer.
So ... yeah. We tried really hard to find some nuance.
Two of the firm's lawyers, Ryan Napoli and Kumar Rao, participated in the video and allowed the firm's office to appear in one of the shots. They resigned from The Bronx Defenders, calling their participation "an error in judgment" and maintaining that they weren't made aware of some of the video's content.
The organization itself issued a statement saying that it "abhors the use of violence against the police under any circumstance" and regrets involvement with the video. The firm's director, Robin Steinberg, has been suspended without pay for 60 days. According to a New York City Department of Investigation report, Steinberg "approved the organization's involvement without reviewing the lyrics and later misled city officials about her role."
While law enforcement agencies -- and at least one public defender -- want the firm's $20 million contract with the city canceled, one Washington Post blogger thinks that's too harsh for an organization whose good deeds are far outweighed by this one slip-up. And, the blogger notes, the lawyers will "find jobs elsewhere. The people who will be punished are their indigent clients -- both present day and in the future."
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