The Anatomy of a Crusade
Jack Thompson’s move against 2 Live Crew began last New Year’s Day when he sent letters to both Florida Gov. Bob Martinez and Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno.
His demand: an investigation into the possible violation of state obscenity statutes and racketeering codes regarding the rap group’s “As Nasty as They Wanna Be” album.
Following up on Thompson’s request regarding 2 Live Crew, Martinez called for a probe of the group’s record company based upon the questions posed in the letter. Dissatisfied with the lack of response from the state attorney’s office, Thompson arranged a private purchase of the album on Jan. 17, in which he alleged that three separate retailers in Dade County sold the “Nasty” tape to a 16-year-old. He tried to press charges against the record stores but was thwarted when parents of the teen-ager--who, Thompson said had allowed their son to purchase the records--refused to let him testify in court. But the resulting controversy led a number of stores to voluntarily discontinue selling the album.
On Feb. 1, Thompson sent a copy of 2 Live Crew’s lyrics to the Lee County Sheriff’s Department. He also sent a letter to the state attorney in Lee County, who, based on a prior obscenity ruling in the county to the west, had 14 months earlier banned 2 Live Crew’s “Move Somethin’ ” from store shelves.
On Feb. 9, Lee County Judge Isaac Anderson ruled that there was “probable cause to believe” that the “Nasty” album was obscene. Broadening the scope of his attack, Thompson sent copies of the 2 Live Crew lyrics to 67 more sheriff’s departments, including Broward County, where a U.S. district judge would eventually rule the “Nasty” album to be obscene. Thompson also sent letters to every state governor in the nation.
He then notified selected police officials across the country, which resulted in many police departments taking the album to local judges who issued rulings stating the album was “probably obscene.” This procedure was followed in four Florida counties, including Broward, as well as in several counties in Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Alabama and Texas. Authorities in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have issued opinions declaring the record harmful to minors. Police informed local record stores of the rulings and most of the stores stopped selling the record.
2 Live Crew filed suit in U.S. District Court on March 16 in Ft. Lauderdale seeking to declare the album not obscene and to stop Broward County Sherrif Nick Navarro from arresting those who might sell it to adults. Judge Jose Gonzalez’s ruling that the record was obscene led to the arrests of two members of the group and a record store owner who sold the album, and set off a national furor.
While recent national press accounts have suggested that there was a unified effort by Thompson and Navarro to stop the sale of 2 Live Crew’s “Nasty” album, Thompson maintains that Navarro and his attorney, John Jolley, tried to derail the obscenity ruling by not presenting a more comprehensive case against the album in court. Thompson filed a friend of the court brief and 13 addenda.
“I like to say while Sheriff Navarro took a dive at the hearing,” Thompson said, “but Judge Gonzalez drained the pool.”
In an interview in the Broward County sheriff’s office, Navarro said he has never met Thompson and does not understand why Thompson is critical of his department.
Responded Jolley, “During this case, so much venom had been built up between Jack Thompson, the sheriff and myself, I was certain that some form of bold confrontation was going to take place.”
In May, Thompson concentrated his efforts on alerting Florida officials to the showing of the initially X-rated “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover” at a state film festival. Two weeks ago, he sent a letter to U.S. Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh, asking the federal government to take action against Campbell’s record company.
Thompson’s efforts also have been instrumental in encouraging such major retail chains across the country as the 752-outlet Musicland Group and the 450-store Trans World Corp. to drop 2 Live Crew’s “Nasty” album from their inventories. His actions also have drawn national attention to a copyright infringement battle between Lucasfilm Ltd., George Lucas’ Marin County-based film company, and Campbell’s rap firm Skyywalker Records.
Thompson’s next step?
He said he has signed a contract to write a do-it-yourself anti-obscenity crusading manual that will feature techniques to teach “concerned citizens” how to engage in what he calls “guerrilla warfare” against the “smut peddlers.” Targeted for release in the fall, the book will be released by Honeytone House, a Christian publishing firm based in Louisiana.
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