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The 2 Live Crew Controversy: The View From Florida : Obscenity: Two members of the rap group and a record store owner have been arrested. Some see racism in the crackdown.

“ ‘Deep Throat V’ . . . ‘Taboo VII’ . . . you name it, we’ve got it,” the manager of an adult book store here said this week.

“This is no PG neighborhood,” he added. “It’s overflowing with prostitution, drug dealing and shootings.”

Omni Adult Books--a 4,000-square-foot store that features private screening rooms, an adult magazine rack and approximately 1,400 X-rated videos--is a 15-minute drive along Broward Boulevard from the U.S. District Court building where a federal judge last week declared an album by the Miami-based rap group 2 Live Crew to be obscene, based on his perception of community standards stemming from a 1973 Supreme Court decision.

Federal Judge Jose Gonzalez’s June 6 ruling--which made it illegal for retailers in the Southern Florida counties of Broward, Dade and Palm Beach to sell the group’s “As Nasty as They Wanna Be” album--has set off a national debate on the legal limits of artistic expression in pop music.

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At least three arrests have already resulted from Gonzalez’s decision. Charles Freeman, a Ft. Lauderdale record store owner, was arrested Friday for selling a copy of the “Nasty” album to an adult undercover detective.

In addition, two members of 2 Live Crew--including leader Luther Campbell--were arrested early Sunday morning following an adults-only performance by the group at Club Futura in nearby Hollywood. (Both Ft. Lauderdale and Hollywood are in Broward County).

Campbell questioned the community standards criterion of the court decision in an interview this week. He has defended his expletive-laced tales about sexual encounters as comedy in the spirit of Redd Foxx and Eddie Murphy.

“You can’t have it both ways,” he said during an interview in a sandwich shop around the corner from the new headquarters of his record label, Skyyline Records.

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“If the record burners think that the kind of stuff I sing about is obscene, then what about all the porno flicks and live nude reviews that are open 24 hours a day here? Why don’t the police try to shut them down?”

Nova University law professor Bruce Rogow, who is the rap group’s attorney, also questioned the “community standards” ruling. “There are materials being sold in Broward County that go far beyond 2 Live Crew’s songs, material that depicts sexual material in all its permutations,” he said during an interview at his home in Ft. Lauderdale. Rogow filed an appeal in the obscenity case on Monday.

Freeman, the Ft. Lauderdale record store owner who was arrested for selling the “Nasty” album, said he believed the 2 Live Crew arrests were racially motivated.

“Luther Campbell is a successful black entrepreneur and I think his race plays a big factor in these arrests,” Freeman told The Times.

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“Southern Florida has a history of racial tension and this situation is like a powder keg about ready to blow. . . . (This region) is practically run by Hispanics and there’s long been tension between Hispanics and blacks.

“I don’t have anything against X-rated adult shops. I just wish someone would tell me why they only prosecute people selling 2 Live Crew’s music.”

But Sheriff Nick Navarro, whose department was involved in the arrests of both Freeman and the rappers, defended his department. “Friday night, we arrested 160 people in Broward county for selling and buying crack,” he said in an interview in his office. “But no one anywhere in the media printed anything about it. All the reporters want to write about is 2 Live Crew.”

He denied racism was involved in the actions.

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“We specifically went after 2 Live Crew because we were following up on a complaint,” he said, adding that no one has ever filed a complaint regarding other sexual material. “If someone did,” he said, “we would follow up on that too.”

Jack Thompson, the anti-pornography crusader who first alerted Broward County authorities to the 2 Live Crew album, said that although he wished the sheriff’s department would “clean the sex shops,” he felt the 2 Live Crew arrests were justified.

“I don’t know what the sheriff’s motivations are,” Thompson said during an interview at his house in Coral Gables. “But just because somebody else is going 150 miles an hour down Highway I-95 and you’re the one that gets caught, that doesn’t mean you aren’t speeding.”

Employees at two adult book stores in Broward County and a patron at a strip club in neighboring Dade County (which includes Miami) also questioned what they saw as selective enforcement of “community standards.”

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“In my opinion, there are more important problems in Broward County for the sheriff to be dealing with than harassing 2 Live Crew,” said the Omni Adult Books manager, who declined to give his name.

A patron watching a nude review at the Club Pink Pussycat in Miami objected to the actions against 2 Live Crew.

“It’s outrageous,” he said. “This is America. What happened to free speech?”

But he was the only one of a dozen or so male customers in the club who came to Campbell’s defense.

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The other customers questioned said they hadn’t heard of the record and most said they were unaware of the controversy, even though it has become a national issue and local newspapers and television stations have covered it extensively.

At one point Monday, Sheriff Navarro’s office received interview requests from three local television stations and two networks during a 20-minute period when he was giving another reporter an interview. He estimated that he gave more than three dozen interviews on Monday alone.

On Friday, the Miami Herald ran an editorial calling for the repeal of the current state obscenity statute.

” . . . Floridians who value free speech have a clear challenge,” the Herald said. “It is to make indelible the state’s clear right to protect minors from smut and to tell the state to butt out of adults’ choices of what they prefer to see, hear or read.”

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John Sweeney, owner of Sound Splash Records in Palm Beach Gardens in Palm Beach County, said he intends to continue selling the “Nasty” album in defiance of Gonzalez’s ruling.

“I don’t want to just roll over and play dead like the other retailers,” he said. “I feel like if we don’t put our foot down now, maybe they’ll pick another artist and go after them next. Somebody has got to take a stand.”


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