Gunning for Boots

Pub date June 5, 2007
SectionMusicSectionSonic Reducer


SONIC REDUCER Where have all the outlaws gone? Now that Paris Hilton seems like the highest-profile sorta-one-hit wonder to run afoul of the law, it’s easy to believe that pop’s rep for rebellion is seriously in question. (And with Warner Bros. jettisoning the overexposed jet-setter, who knows if she should even make the tally?) Yet just how disturbing or subversive is it to glom on to corporate punks like Good Charlotte or hitch your fortunes to soaking-in-it onetime gangstas like Snoop "Soul Gravy Train" Dogg? How revolutionary is it to play music your parents might approve of, à la white-bread soul poppers Maroon 5?

But those petty pop-crit worries wane on hearing about the Coup mastermind Boots (né Raymond) Riley’s Memorial Day misfortune. In the early-morning hours, long before most locals were firing up the grill and chugging microbrews, Riley was looking down the wrong end of a San Francisco Police Department gun barrel while innocently attending a get-together at a friend’s warehouse in SF’s Dogpatch-Waterfront zone. Why? Likely for nothing more than driving while black.

Riley had just parked his car near the warehouse when he was blinded by flashlights, and he realized that he was surrounded by cops. "They were saying, ‘Don’t fucking move, don’t fucking move,’ and came straight at me," Riley told me from his Oakland home, where he had just fed his kids their Sunday breakfast. "They put my hands above my head, searched me, and searched my car, even though they were looking for someone who was stealing tires. You know, if they had a description of a light-skinned black man with a big Afro and sideburns, maybe they should have taken me in. But they were yelling, ‘Are you on probation? Do you have a warrant?’ And every time I said no, they said, ‘Don’t lie to us. Don’t fucking lie to us.’"

Neighbor Hoss Ward had been walking his dog by the warehouse when he spied officers with flashlights lurking between parked cars amid the trash on the street. "I thought that was weird. They didn’t question me, but I’m a white man," he said later, verifying that Boots parked, got thrown against his car, and had guns pulled on him. "It’s not unusual for someone to pull up in a beater car," Ward said. Yet this incident smelled like racial profiling: "That’s what the vibe felt like."

"I walked over there and said, ‘What the hell is going on?’" recounted Riley’s friend Marci Bravo, who lives at the warehouse. Eventually Riley was released, but, Bravo continued, "It was really messed up. We fire off fireworks, burn things in the street, and there’s been no problems with cops. They’ve actually come and hung out before.

"It’s just a nasty case of police profiling."

In the end, Riley said, the officers didn’t even check his ID. At press time, police representatives had not responded to inquiries about the incident, and Riley was planning on filing a grievance with the city watchdog agency the Office of Citizens Complaints, a process that the longtime activist is, unfortunately, familiar with. After a 1995 Riverside performance with Method Man, Riley and kindred local hip-hoppers Raz Caz, E-Roc, and Saafir were pulled over and pepper-sprayed in their car seats following a yelling argument at a club. Then there was the incident during the Coup’s 2006 tour around, ironically, their Epitaph album Pick a Bigger Weapon. Shortly after the tour manager urinated next to a semi at a Vermont rest stop, the tour vehicles were stopped by plainclothes officers who claimed to be surveilling a cocaine deal in the truck. "Half the band woke up with guns in their faces," the Coup leader recalled.

Riley’s experiences in and out of our enlightened — for some — city bring home the ugly, everyday reality behind the entertaining anecdote with which the Arcade Fire’s Win Butler regaled the Greek Theatre crowd June 2: he was almost arrested for the first time that day when Berkeley police dragged him out of a rec facility for arguing over the use of a public basketball court. "They called for backup and everything," Butler marveled onstage.

"There are stories all the time," Riley offered matter-of-factly. "Everyone knows you used to get fucked with in San Francisco and Berkeley."

"Usually it’s not anything with me specifically being a rapper," he continued. "I might have even more protection because of that. Like at this get-together, somebody came up and said, ‘Don’t you know who this is? This is Boots Riley.’ They might not have known who I am, but they realize this isn’t the regular case where they can do whatever they want." *


Talk to underground trance DJs, and they’ll point to the Harmony Festival as the hot spot forest ravers will be orbiting. Indeed, one of the main organizers, Howard "Bo" Sapper — who, along with Sean Ahearn, Scott McKeown, and Jeff Kaus, is putting on the 29th music and camping fest — agrees that a healthy, fire-breathing portion of the expected 40,000 at the three-day event will be die-hard burners drawn to the seven-year-old techno tribal night. Sapper also points proudly to the diversity of the musical lineup, including Brian Wilson, Erykah Badu, Rickie Lee Jones, the Roots, Common, moe., and Umphrey’s McGee. "I’m not sure if we’re going mainstream or the mainstream is coming to us," Sapper said, listing the green exhibits and this year’s theme, Promoting Global Cooling. "It’s part of the paradigm shift going on in America."



Air mattress

Plenty of water



Fri/8–Sun/10, $20–$500

Sonoma County Fairgrounds

1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa