"Shut Up And Sing" Might Be Funny. "Shut Up And Submit to the Police" Isn't.

Everyone likes to laugh at celebrities. Part of it is the pleasure we take at the mighty brought low. Part of it is that celebrities are often ridiculous people — arguably you'd have to be a ridiculous person to tolerate being a celebrity in the first place.

But not every bad thing that happens to a celebrity is funny. Not every anti-celebrity rant is amusing. Just as we have to discipline our tendencies towards schadenfreude when free speech is on the line, we should temper our enjoyment when a pretentious celebrity encounters the criminal justice system.

This week's example: singer Fiona Apple. Apple was arrested on drug charges in Texas and later rambled about it at a concert:

The "Criminal" songstress said that "most people were very nice to me," but she had some stern words for a few who she said were less kind.

"There are four of you out there, and I want you to know that I heard everything you did, I wrote it all down with your names and everything you did and said stupidly thinking that I couldn't hear or see you," she continued.

Apple did not name either the jailer or the four individuals, but threatened to make the latter group "famous anytime you ask."

She described the antics of the four people she alluded to as "inappropriate and probably illegal," but did not offer further details.

Apple then announced that she had ripped up the piece of paper, but not before she "encoded" the information she had written down. She said she would "hold that secret forever … unless you're interested in being a celebrity."

This is annoying on numerous levels. First, as a criminal defense attorney, let me say: Ms. Apple, for your own good, please shut up about your arrest, because it makes it harder to defend you, and might be used against you. If, by any chance, there was any legal defect in the way you were stopped, arrested, searched, or questioned, you've just made it harder for your lawyer to do something about it.

Second, the statement is incoherent. It's not just regular-person incoherent, it's even singer-songwriter incoherent. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am all for speaking out against police misconduct. But that's not what Fiona Apple is doing. She's not saying "this is how they mistreated me, and it's wrong." She's doing a cutesy stream-of-consciousness bit about how maybe she'll name cops and maybe she won't and how maybe she'll make them famous and maybe she won't, conveying not a message about police misconduct but a message about . . . hell, I can't say what. It's incoherent.

But Apple's irritating articulation is merely an occasion for eye-rolling; the response of law enforcement is a concern. Hudspeth County Sheriff's Department Public Information Officer Rusty Fleming responded to Ms. Apple with a snide letter and follow-up snide media appearances:

First, Honey, I’m already more famous than you, I don't need your help. However, it would appear that you need mine….

Two weeks ago nobody in the country cared about what you had to say, — now that you’ve been arrested it appears your entire career has been jump-started. Don’t worry Sweetie, I won't bill you…

Next, have you ever heard of Snoop, Willie or Armand Hammer? Maybe if you would read something besides your own press releases, you would have known BEFORE you got here, that if you come to Texas with dope, the cops will take your DOPE away and put YOU in jail…

Even though you and I only met briefly in the hallway, I don't know you but I'm sure you're an awesome and talented young woman and even though I'm not a fan of yours, I am sure there are thousands of them out there, and I’m sure that they would just as soon you get this all behind you and let you go back to what you do best—so my last piece of advice is simple "just shut-up and sing."


Rusty Fleming

Now, if Fiona Apple had complained about a restaurant or hotel or something — if she had used her fame to abuse someone less powerful than she is — and a spokesperson had written back like this, it would be awesome, if somewhat sexist. But she complained, however fecklessly, about mistreatment during a drug arrest by police, who have vastly more power than she does, no matter how much money or fame she has. That changes the complexion of the response entirely.

First, the department's defenders may say "well, Ole Rusty isn't a cop, he's just a civilian spokesperson." True. But the fact that a sheriff's department sees fit to hire someone like Rusty Fleming as a spokesperson, and to tolerate communications like this, speaks volumes about how they view their relationship with the public and with the media.

Second, buried in the "shut up and sing" is not just a clean hit on a bizarre and self-indulgent on-stage statement from a celebrity. "Shut up and sing" also contains within it the too-common attitude of law enforcement towards civilian criticism and complaints. Here at Popehat we write about how cops react to attempts to file complaints about police officers, how cops abuse the legal system to frustrate the use of new technologies to document misconduct, how cops make bogus claims of being "threatened" to prevent citizens from recording them in the course of their duties, how cops think that expressions of fidelity to constitutional principles are evidence of criminality, how cops react to critical satire with criminal investigations, and how cops — when they think nobody is listening — react with fury and contempt to being questioned. Our cultural attitude toward celebrities is only part of the context of "shut up and sing"; law enforcement entitlement and casual brutality is the other part of the context.

Third, Rusty's letter is a smirking and triumphalist cheer for the immoral, ruinous, ruinously expensive prolonged failure that is the Great American War on Drugs. The War on Drugs does not merely cost us billions of dollars. It does not merely cage people for consensual individual conduct like possession of a piece of vegetation. The War on Drugs is violent. More specifically, it's brutally violent against values that are supposed to be at the heart of America, like due process of law. Adhering to the War on Drugs means never having to say you are sorry for criminal justice system abuses that, in a nation not cowed by drug war propaganda, would shock Americans into action.

So: if you must, enjoy Rusty's letter to the extent it takes a swipe at celebrity entitlement. But if you do, bear in mind that ugly and contemptible things lurk beneath its surface. They letter, though seemingly lighthearted, contains a dark message: civilian, OBEY.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Grifter says

    I'm pretty sure he's not more famous than Fiona Apple.

    Also, that doesn't just read, to me, as snarky-to-celebrity…it also reads patronizingly misogyinst. But that might just be me.

  2. says

    Yeah, I was thinking that, but reread it and decided I hadn't conveyed it well enough, so I changed the graph after the letter.

  3. says

    Is Rusty one of the people involved in the misconduct? He kinda self-implies that: Apple said she would make the abusive officers famous, and Rusty says, "I'm already more famous than you, so I don't need your womanly help."

    Kinda sounds like an admission of guilt to me…

  4. different Jess says

    Tastes differ, but I cannot comprehend why anyone wouldn't appreciate the work of Fiona Apple. She is a true musician, with just a thin veneer of pop so she can stay signed with a label. With all the myriad other things for which Texans ought to be ashamed, I had thought they at least had an appreciation for music.

    I know that his being Texan explains all, but you would have thought most "professional spokesmen" for sheriffs of BFE counties in the Great Plains would have the… self-awareness [?] to realize that they are not in fact more famous than multiple-platinum-selling musicians. Why on earth does a county with a population of less than 3500 need a deputy, let alone a sheriff's department big enough to include a spokesman? They have some weird priorities out there in West Texas.

  5. Gavin says

    It depends on if Rusty knows what the subject at hand was. Fiona Apple could be complaining about them doing something completely legal and saying something that's completely within their right to say. She's probably just miffed about getting caught with drugs. This whole situation took away her power, the power that stars often gain to do what they want freely. This response letter appears to just be her trying to regain power over the situation with an idle threat that she's holding over their heads. If they did mistreat, then she should drop the hammer and not keep it secret. Cops deserve to get caught if they're pulling crap. Ken is spot on regarding the nature of police entitlement which this letter is still smacking of.

    I don't know why the comment on the war on drugs was thrown into the end. It doesn't seem to relate to anything other than the charge she was brought in on which was only referrenced to point out that this area is so well known for busting stars with drugs that she might as well have been speeding in a well-known speeding trap a block from her house. I agree that the "war on drugs" is ridiculous and has done far more harm than good, but it just seemed out of place being tacked on like it was despite being relevant to the charge. I guess that's just because the interaction appears to be about what happened at the jail rather than why she was arrested.

  6. says

    Gavin – Regarding the "war on drugs" issue, Fiona was charged with a felony for having 0.15 ounces of hash, after Texas police non-consentually searched her tour bus with a drug dog. "I/my dog (allegedly) smells weed" is consistently being used to circumvent fourth amendment guarantees, and felony charges for carrying 0.15 oz. of a plant is absurd.

  7. AJ says

    I don't get the reference to Armand Hammer. Is that the Armand Hammer of Occidental Petroleum? He's been dead for over 20 years. I thought Willie Nelson's main legal troubles were with the IRS. This guy's statement seems pretty incoherent as well.

    My personal opinion: some men need firing.

  8. says

    I think Fleming is one of those people who believes something is only well-known if he's heard of it. I have no other explanation for why he'd think he's more famous than Fiona Apple.

  9. David Schwartz says

    "I have no other explanation for why he'd think he's more famous than Fiona Apple."

    Delusions of grandeur. Apparently, his delusions of adequacy now have company.

  10. says

    The "jump-start your career" line is a giveaway to his actual ignorance – Fiona Apple's career overtook Cassini a long time ago.

    Dumbfuck yokels. People would be surprised by how normal and mostly absent of asshattery actual life in most of Texas is. It's just people like this guy that make the news.

  11. David says

    While it's not the best idea in the world, Fleming isn't really threatening her. I can't really condemn him for being snarky.

    Both of them should probably shut up and get back to work.

  12. nlp says

    The Cato map is interesting, but it doesn't show dogs killed for just being in the house that was raided. Or is that part of the paramilitary excess?

  13. Josh C says

    "National Treasure" usually just means travel restrictions.

    Normally, this site calls vagueness and bumptiousness over so-called offensive speech something much more perjorative than "an occasion for eye-rolling". Even though the response (a) comes from the police and (b) includes rhetorical flourishes, I'm not sure why this isn't simply censorious asshats: Fiona Apple edition.

  14. Gavin says

    @Jonathan Corbett,

    I don't disagree. Drug laws are awful and are causing a bigger problem than they solve. I'm just talking about it's place here. It just seems forced because the discussion is about what she said with regards to how she was treated, and how they responded, not the law at hand. Regardless of what the law says, it's the job of the police to carry it out. An unjust law is the responsibility of law makers and the courts, not those who are paid to enforce them. So saying a police officer is upholding unjust laws is kinda like complaining that they're doing their job properly.

    But I totally agree with everyone here. The "war on drugs" is a drain on everything. It creates criminals, ruins lives, ruins countries, spends huge amounts of tax payer dollars and prevents legitimizing what would otherwise be lucrative sources of income (legalize it and tax it, it's no worse than cigarettes or alcohol by any stretch of the imagination).

  15. Waldo says

    From the WaPo link:

    In addition to his work for the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office, Fleming is also a documentary filmmaker and writer who made a documentary called “Drug Wars: Silver or Lead.” He also contributes to the CainTV Web site, owned by former presidential candidate Herman Cain. His most recent article, written shortly after the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” was titled, “Gun Control Done Right — It’s called Aim and Shoot!”

    He comes across as a major attention whore and douche to me, although I do agree with him that Apple should file a complaint if there was any misconduct. Certainly not the voice I'd want representing me.

    As to Armand Hammer, I had the same question and followed a couple of links to find out that this is a great grandson of the famous Armand Hammer who has the same name and is an actor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armie_Hammer

  16. different Jess says

    OK, a short glance at the marketing for this "Drug Wars" documentary makes it pretty clear that Rusty is not on the side of the angels with respect to drug prohibition. (I only link because Popehat nofollows.) This film emphasizes terrible things that narcos have done, as a pretext to introduce various LEOs lobbying for more cops, more fences, more prisons, more spending, etc.

    I do have sympathy for his recovery from drug dependence, but he draws the wrong conclusions from his experiences. He's a little bit slimy for taking advantage of his friendship with Sheriff West in drumming up publicity for the film he's marketing. (If the sheriff actually had a professional spokesman, that person would be distancing the department from this mess.) Rusty is much more slimy in taking advantage of the misfortunes of a great musician for that same purpose.

  17. En Passant says

    David wrote Sep 25, 2012 @10:53 am:

    While it's not the best idea in the world, Fleming isn't really threatening her. I can't really condemn him for being snarky.

    Both of them should probably shut up and get back to work.

    Well, I can condemn Fleming, or any other ambitious asshat who makes a fortune by promoting draconian, unjust laws and a police state. I can condemn them just for wasting air, food, water and space that good and decent people could put to better use.

    different Jess wrote Sep 25, 2012 @2:35 pm:

    I do have sympathy for his recovery from drug dependence, but he draws the wrong conclusions from his experiences.

    I don't think he ever "recovered from drug dependence". He just changed dependency — from whatever smack he was shooting, to fame, fortune and the perception of power for cheerleading the intentional official destruction of good peoples' lives.

    AA once had a term for it: "dry drunk".

  18. says

    In my 45 years of concert-going, no artist I've ever seen perform has been arrested with the exception of Georges Cziffra (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Cziffra), and that was well before I saw him. And he was imprisoned by the German Army during WWII, so it's not the same as "Fiona Apple" (if that is her real name) and her drug conviction.

  19. says

    @Reuven: Members of the German industrial band Rammstein were arrested for what the Massachusetts (I believe) police considered an objectionable homoerotic performance that was a standard part of their act. They swore off performing in the U.S., if I recall correctly.

    No time to research my claims at the moment though.