How N.W.A. Embarrassed Detroit’s Gang Squad

You got to hand it to the Detroit PD for being honest about their intentions. The department’s elite Gang Squad didn’t have any probable cause for shutting down an N.W.A. concert when the band performed “Fuck Tha Police” at Joe Louis Arena in 1989, but that didn’t stop them from rushing the stage moments after the stinging lyrics were uttered. 

“We just wanted to show the kids that you can’t say ‘Fuck Tha Police’ in Detroit,” a local cop told the Hollywood Reporter. The entire ordeal plays out in maximum drama in the new movie “Straight Outta Compton,” the N.W.A. biopic that opened in theaters Aug. 14.

Like most Hollywood treatments, the movie doesn’t quite get the story right. So The Real called Jay Cooper who worked the show that night. Before he was VP of the Pacific Northwest for AEG Facilities, Cooper was event coordinator for Olympia Entertainment and remembers sitting through “meetings with the cops where they’d threaten to arrest us if the band played ‘Fuck the Police.’ We just replied “yes sir” to everything they said. We were very intimidated.”

Kevin Grove worked for show promoter Brass Ring Productions in 1989 and was on the team that booked the seven-act bill headlined by LL Cool J.

“N.W.A. hadn’t played the song on any of the other tour stops, but when they came on the stage, people kept chanting ‘Fuck Tha Police’ over and over,” said Grove, who now works as VP of programming at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla. “And N.W.A. gave the crowd what it wanted.”

Moments after the song started, fireworks went off in the crowd (Grove thinks a cop may have set them off) and the audience panicked.

“A couple dozen plainclothes cops used the scattering crowd to start making their way to the stage. The band saw them coming and took off.”

Grove said he “sprinted back to the production office and saw the band running by” – the theory being they ran underneath the arena risers and slipped out a back door to a waiting car.

Cooper rushed to N.W.A.’s dressing room, where “the band had this giant security guard standing in front of the door and wouldn’t let any of the police in,” he said. “Out of this sea of cops, this hand comes out with a blackjack and just cracks this guy right on the head and he goes down hard.”

The police did eventually locate Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, Yella and Ice Cube at their hotel and briefly detained them before eventually letting them go. No one in the group was ever charged.

“Detroit was a tough city and the mentality of the police was, ‘You come into our house, then you play by our rules,’” Cooper said. “They were not going to back down. But they really just made the problem worse. When you tell artists they can’t do something, you make them want to do it even more.”