The first record store owner in the nation ever to be convicted of selling obscene music was fined $1,000 by a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., judge Wednesday.
E.C Records store owner Charles Freeman was ordered to pay the fine to a local elementary school for artistically gifted students.
Freeman, who could have been sentenced to a maximum penalty of one year in jail under Florida obscenity code, reacted angrily to the ruling and vowed to appeal the decision.
“I’m not guilty and I’m not going to pay the fine,” said Freeman from a pay phone in the courthouse Wednesday. “We’re going to appeal it. If I have to take this thing all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, I will be vindicated.”
Broward County Judge Paul L. Backman ordered Freeman to pay the fine to the Walker Elementary School, which specializes in the performing arts. The school recently lost much of its musical equipment in a theft.
Backman, who lectured Freeman from the bench, said he selected the school because Freeman’s punishment should fit the crime.
Freeman, 32, was arrested June 8 after selling a copy of 2 Live Crew’s “As Nasty as They Wanna Be” rap album to an adult undercover officer two days after a U.S. district judge in Ft. Lauderdale ruled the album was obscene. Freeman was convicted of selling obscene materials on Oct. 3, after a three-day jury trial.
“Let’s face it, almost everybody else who was charged in a case like this has been vindicated,” Freeman said. “2 Live Crew walked. Retailers in San Antonio and Texas walked. I feel like I’m being used as a scapegoat here.
“The only reason I was convicted is that my all-white jury knew absolutely nothing about what black rap music is all about. It is just plain wrong.”
The Florida retailer drew national attention in June after he defied police warnings to stop selling the record. The televised image of Freeman being led out of his store in handcuffs sparked an international debate over obscene lyrics in popular music, triggering a series of similar prosecutions against record store owners who refused to stop selling the album in Texas, North Carolina and Canada.
Commercial obscenity charges filed against an independent San Antonio record store owner were dismissed Monday, as were counts against the 142-store Dallas-based Sound Warehouse chain on Nov. 8. Music obscenity cases involving retailers in North Carolina and Canada are not expected to go to trial before January.
From the beginning, Freeman has blamed anti-obscenity crusader Jack Thompson for the chain of events which led to his conviction. Thompson, a Coral Gables, Fla., attorney, initiated the national 2 Live Crew legal battle and personally filed the complaint in Ft. Lauderdale against Freeman.
The way Thompson sees it, Freeman is a “sacrificial lamb” abandoned by a “hypocritical” record industry.
“Like Ollie North was the fall guy in Irangate, Charles Freeman is the fall guy in Crewgate,” Thompson said by phone Wednesday. “Our society will never seriously begin to deal with the music obscenity problem until the corporate executives in the music industry who are using people like Charles Freeman are indicted and convicted.
“Luther Campbell, the man who created and produced the obscene recording in question here, is the one who should have been convicted.”
Campbell, the leader of 2 Live Crew and owner of the Miami-based Luke Records, pledged to assist Freeman financially in his legal battle, insisting--as he has since June--that the case is tainted by “racism and political grandstanding.”
“Charles’ conviction is proof that society has not come along as far as many of us would like to think,” Campbell said by phone from Miami. “It’s unfortunate that innocent everyday people like Charles, guys who get up and go to work every morning, are still at the mercy of racist politicians living in the past.”