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Posted by Robert
Rap News Network
3/15/2004 12:51:12 PM

Tags and topics realted to this article include 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G., Ja Rule, P. Diddy and Various Artists.

Legal scholars debate whether police surveillance of rap stars visiting Miami and Miami Beach violates the U.S. Constitution.

A year ago, the city of Denver settled a free-speech lawsuit that accused police of routinely gathering ''spy files'' on thousands of law-abiding demonstrators from as early as the 1950s.

Hit with an American Civil Liberties Union suit, police agreed to stop compiling data about someone without ''reasonable suspicion'' that the person is involved in criminal activity.

That case mirrors a practice that, according to a Herald investigation, has been happening in Miami Beach and Miami for the past three years: Police have been secretly keeping tabs on dozens of visiting rap artists such as 50 Cent, Ja Rule and P. Diddy.

At issue: Are investigators violating constitutional freedoms by gathering dossiers and taking pictures of artists in public places -- merely because they're part of a hip-hop industry that has been tainted by murderous violence?

GROUNDS FOR A SUIT

Several constitutional scholars and criminal experts contacted by The Herald were divided over whether the police surveillance policy could be grounds for a lawsuit. They agree, though, that such surveillance paints people in the industry collectively as thugs -- and touches on racial profiling.

''Law enforcement agencies historically single out political groups because of their speech,'' said David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor. ``Here, their targeting of [rappers] reinforces the stereotype that because you're young, black and male, you're likely to be a criminal. That has a damaging effect on the black community at large.''

Miami Beach and Miami police say they've been quietly watching the movements of top hip-hop entertainers and their entourages because they want to protect the public and the celebrities alike.

Local investigators, assisted by the New York City Police Department, do background checks on rappers because they say they have a responsibility to monitor rivalries within the industry that have sparked violence in the past.

''We don't profile anybody,'' Miami Beach Assistant Police Chief Chuck Press said in an earlier interview with The Herald. ``What we do is learn about people so that we can protect the people in the city, and that includes [rappers].''

Several music executives and legal scholars say police have used the slayings of high-profile artists such as Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G. and Run DMC's Jam Master Jay to justify tracking players in the $10 billion industry.

Some legal critics question whether Miami Beach and Miami police have crossed a constitutional line in their surveillance of rappers -- most of whom have no criminal history and are not suspected of committing a crime.

Critics further question whether investigators have infringed on basic constitutional rights by compiling biographical binders on rappers, taking photos of hip-hoppers at airports, monitoring hotel stays and club visits and questioning people who have come into contact with them.

At the heart of the dispute: the right to assemble, free speech, safeguards against unreasonable searches and seizures, equal protection, due process and personal liberty without government interference.

OUT OF PROPORTION

Bruce Rogow, a constitutional expert who teaches at Nova Southeastern University's law school in Davie, said the magnitude of police surveillance is totally out of proportion to the suspected criminal activity among mostly law-abiding rappers.

''I think if you got off an airplane and there are cops waiting to watch you and take your picture, I think they've crossed the line there,'' he said. ``That is a quintessential example of intimidation.

''It is not an invasion of privacy because it's a public place,'' Rogow said, citing U.S. Supreme Court rulings

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