The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police yesterday declared a far-reaching boycott against the institutions it holds responsible for a benefit concert at the First Union Spectrum this week on behalf of convicted killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The boycott includes the Spectrum, the First Union Center, First Union Bank and a subsidiary, First Union Securities; and Electric Factory Concerts, which promoted the performance by Rage Against the Machine on Monday.
"So long as people continue to financially profit from the blood of a murdered police officer, this message of violence will continue to spread," FOP president Richard B. Costello said at a news conference. "By supporting this boycott, you can help stop the marketing of hate for profit."
Costello also said the Republican National Committee would be asked to relocate its national convention next summer from the First Union Center to the Convention Center in Center City or to another city. A GOP spokesman did not respond to calls for comment.
The boycott, however, does not involve Comcast-Spectacor, which owns both entertainment venues. Instead, it focuses on First Union, which paid $40 million over 20 years to affix its name to the Spectrum and the former CoreStates Center.
Costello said the FOP decided it would be unrealistic to ask its 14,000 members and the community to boycott a company that owns a "legal monopoly" on local cable television service.
"We thought we'd be asking people a bit much to basically throw out their television sets," he said.
On the other hand, Costello said, while First Union maintains a marketing relationship to the venues, "along with the notoriety comes the responsibility."
Asked when the boycott might end, Costello said the FOP could only be satisfied if Comcast-Spectacor renames one or both of the arenas in memory of Daniel Faulkner.
A Comcast spokesman declined to comment on whether that would happen.
The FOP announcement coincided with the 18th anniversary of the death of Faulkner, 25, a Philadelphia police officer who was fatally shot near 13th and Locust Streets in Center City.
A jury convicted Abu-Jamal, a onetime Philadelphia radio commentator and member of the Black Panther Party, in 1982 after five hours of deliberation. The state Supreme Court has twice upheld his conviction; it is being appealed in federal court.
Supporters of Abu Jamal say he was denied a fair trial, contending that the judge was biased, that black jurors were kept off the jury and that a court-appointed lawyer was not experienced in criminal law.
Rage Against the Machine is a critically acclaimed hard-rock/hip-hop band that has drawn controversy nationwide for its outspoken support of Abu-Jamal.
At the concert, which drew 13,000 spectators, band leader Zack de la Rocha said: "We don't support any kind of killers, especially killer cops. But we do support innocent brothers and sisters framed and put on death row, including Mumia Abu-Jamal."
Speaking at a news conference at FOP headquarters yesterday, Costello challenged that assertion, saying the group's songs, including "Bullet in the Head" and "Killing in the Name," demonstrate its advocacy for violence and hate. He added: "This outfit has openly advocated violence against police officers. This is a hate group, not a music group."
First Union issued a statement saying it does not manage the entertainment venues, does not share directly in any revenues generated there, and that views and content expressed there do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the corporation.
Electric Factory Concerts also issued a statement saying it was "disappointed" that the FOP chose to boycott, and that to the company's knowledge Rage Against the Machine has never advocated violence or hatred.
Electric Factory Concerts stressed, however, that its support lies firmly with police officers.
"I'm sad to see the disrespect that has been shown to police officers in the last several years," Electric Factory head Larry Magid said. "It is equally sad, however, to see how this particular police lodge has twisted the truth, although I personally share their anger and frustration."
Peter Luukko, president of Comcast-Spectacor Facilities, which operates the Spectrum and First Union Center, said his company did not heed the FOP's call to cancel the concert, because it was not a political event.
"As controversial as the artists' feelings may be, we cannot get into denying artists based on what their political beliefs may be," Luukko said. "As an organization, we're certainly not pro-Mumia, and as a matter of fact, we're very pro-police. We feel that a boycott against us is misguided."
Yesterday's action by the Philadelphia FOP follows similar moves by police unions in other areas.
In January, the New Jersey State Police, Faulkner's widow, Maureen Faulkner, and Gov. Whitman called for a boycott of a Meadowlands concert that included Rage Against the Machine because proceeds were being given to Abu-Jamal. The show's promoter offered refunds, and nearly 2,000 fans asked for and got them.
Earlier this month, FOP members in Baltimore refused to sign up for overtime security work at a Rage Against the Machine concert because of the Abu-Jamal issue.
Abu-Jamal supporters plan a rally at Progress Plaza in North Philadelphia tomorrow.
The rally will attempt to "combat information being spread by Philadelphia officials and the Fraternal Order of Police who are heading the campaign to rush Mumia to execution," according to a statement from International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal.