Tough rap for gang member

21:38, Feb 17 2009

The arrest of a man for playing loud, expletive-laden rap will be music to most ears, but has rung alarm bells for civil liberties lawyers.

Police charged a 39-year-old man with offensive behaviour because he was playing rap music with swear words on his car stereo outside Rotorua's visitor information centre.

Inspector Bruce Horne, in the police station 100 metres away, heard the windows shaking.

"That got my attention and when I started listening, it was incredible. Every second word was like the `F' word - it was a stream of obscenities."

The incident took place at 11pm in an area frequented by tourists and surrounded by backpacker accommodation, he said.

"It's not what we need in a tourist town. It wasn't just about the loud music. It was the offensive nature of the words and what could be heard."


The man has signed a guilty plea and faces a fine of up to $1000.

But Auckland Council for Civil Liberties president Barry Wilson, a barrister, said the arrest was dubious and needed testing in court.

"Just because someone doesn't like the sound of it - that's not enough, it's got to be pretty serious stuff [to warrant an arrest]."

There were important considerations, including the Bill of Rights, which allows for freedom of expression, and ensuring it was not just the police officer who was offended by the behaviour, he said.

Rap music was also a specific genre and arresting someone on the basis of a song's content was questionable.

"The content of rap is often language which might otherwise be called swear words and yet [in rap] it's pretty common currency."

Similar cases that had gone before the court, including the use of expletives toward police officers, had been overturned, he said.

"There is a very important issue of principle here ... These sort of cases are at the forefront of a free country."

But Mr Horne said that just because music was involved, it did not make the act less offensive. "It's always about context and time and place."

The 39-year-old man was a gang member who had come into the city. Another man was also arrested at the scene for breaching the city's liquor ban.

Mr Horne said there had been significant public support for the arrest. "The way those particular individuals live their lives is they show scant regard for community norms and the feelings of other people."

Residents found such behaviour intimidating and police had taken a harder line as a result, he said.

The Dominion Post