The Rap On Visalia

Hip-hop fans in the rural town of Visalia, Calif., got an apology from the local chief of police for a comment he made about a benefit concert headlining artist E-40, saying that a country artist would draw more of a crowd because of the “redneck audience.”

Visalia interim Police Chief Bob Williams issued a two-page letter of apology for the remarks March 17th, a week after the concert was rescheduled in nearby Fresno and local fans marched through city streets to the police department in protest.

City officials had expressed concern that the original concert, booked by local promoter Bonnie Thompson and Reel-Talk Entertainment, would attract gangs and potential confrontations, according to The Fresno Bee.

Williams reportedly said during a February 28th meeting with the promoter and other organizers that “a George Strait concert with a redneck audience would sell more tickets.”

The plug was pulled on the Visalia event, billed as “Hip-Hop for Hunger,” which was to benefit Visalia Emergency Aid. But that wasn’t the end of controversy.

Thompson attorney Douglas Hurt said his client had to pay $5,000 extra to E-40 for the change in venue, adding that the situation had tarnished her reputation as a promoter, and a damage claim against the city might be pursued.

Hurt addressed students at a rally at the city’s College of the Sequoias.

“We will hold the city accountable in calling Tulare County residents rednecks,” he said, according to the Visalia Times-Delta. “We will stand up for all types of entertainment for the city of Visalia.”

He also joined some 30 local fans who staged a march from the town’s Convention Center to the Visalia Police Department.

In response to the outcry, Williams acknowledged his earlier comments had been “inappropriate” and it was his job to unite, not divide, the community of 92,000.

“I have subsequently met with police department staff and made it clear to them that my comments were simply wrong,” the Bee quoted the letter as saying. “It is to the community that I now apologize.”

He also added that hip-hop concerts will be welcome in Visalia and venues will be safe and successful. Hurt lauded the top cop’s statement as a step toward understanding.

“I will certainly take him on this word that the situation can be remedied in the future so that ethnic entertainment can be performed in Visalia,” he told the Bee.