A year after Rage Against the Machine and the Beastie Boys headlined a New Jersey benefit concert for convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman signed a bill Tuesday granting $80,000 of the state's profits from the show to the families of slain police officers.
The benefit, held Jan. 28, 1999, at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., also featured performances by Bad Religion and Black Star.
Pete Cammarano, the spokesperson for bill co-sponsor and state Sen. Richard Codey, D-Middlesex, said the $80,000 payment was designed as a "disincentive" for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to book similar shows in the future.
"I think [the officials who run the arena] understand why this was done," Cammarano said from Sen. Codey's Middlesex office.
Steffanie Bell, a spokesperson for Whitman, said that under the bill, the Authority will give the money to the state attorney general's office, which will distribute it to groups that support the families of New Jersey officers killed in the line of duty.
The concert stirred up considerable controversy in the New Jersey/Philadelphia area in the days leading up to the event. It even prompted a debate on radio host Howard Stern's syndicated program between Rage guitarist Tom Morello and the widow of Daniel Faulkner, the Philadelphia officer whom Abu-Jamal was convicted of shooting and killing in 1981.
The money raised by the benefit helped support Abu-Jamal's unsuccessful fall appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court for a new trial, Morello said in November.
Rage Against the Machine are vocal proponents of the death-row inmate's efforts to win a new trial, dedicating lyrics to that cause on "Guerrilla Radio" and "Voice of the Voiceless", songs from their most recent album, The Battle of Los Angeles.
The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority operates the Continental Airlines Arena. The $80,000 represents the profit the Authority made from the sold-out show.
Authority spokesperson John Samerjan said the organization knew of the bill for some time. He said its passage did not come as a shock and added, "We're fine with it." But he said First Amendment considerations will keep the bill from preventing the Authority from green-lighting other such benefits.
"If we had to do it over again, we'd have to do it over again," Samerjan said.
Abu-Jamal, a former radio journalist, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982. His supporters claim that procedural errors, witness tampering and racial prejudice tainted the outcome of the trial. Abu-Jamal has exhausted his state appeals and is preparing to begin the appeals process in federal court.
Mike Lutz heads the Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, which has adamantly opposed Abu-Jamal's efforts. He said he was glad to see New Jersey distribute the $80,000 to the families. He had particularly harsh words for Rage Against the Machine.
"They're a hate group," Lutz said of Rage, who have used the term "pigs" in their songs. "They're no different than the Ku Klux Klan and the Neo-Nazi Party."
Spokespersons for Rage Against the Machine and other bands that performed at the show could not be reached for comment.