SKIN WE'RE IN . Ron Brown writes: If there ever was a question about Bruce Springsteen's influence waning in American popular culture, the controversy over "American Skin" should put it to rest for a while. With the media's help, not to mention the assistance of the New York Police Department, Bruce has been brought to the forefront of the culture again. Aside from all the stories in the national media, they were on my local TV stations and in my local newspapers too, even though I live hundreds of miles away from New York in a Midwest community of about 100,000.

All of the stories laid out the facts. That's terrific for Springsteen and his fans, and not so terrific for the NYPD. Because no matter how you read it, the NYPD comes out looking like a ship of fools.

The largest police force in the world called the press and very publicly denounced a song by one of the most popular artists of all time. Then they insulted his personal integrity. With that, the NYPD shot itself in the foot because the coverage only helps do what Springsteen clearly wants done: Get the issue back out before his audience for reflection. (Does 41 shots at an unarmed innocent black man in his own home sound wrong to you?) In seeing the stories I wondered why the NYPD would try to boycott Springsteen and create the atmosphere it did. If the facts anger them, why do they want to shoot the messenger?

It reminds me of the controversy over Ice T's "Cop Killer," which was an obvious attempt to anger and agitate. It was written with vengeance and violence in mind. A call for an eye for an eye. It's message was: We want to do to you what you've been doing to us, or something along those lines. The entire song was an out and out threat. Ice T successfully shocked a lot of people with this message. His point was: "You're shocked at my anger? Good! How the fuck do you think WE feel!" He got a lot of attention. The issue got a lot of attention. Like it or not, it was a wildly successful song because it spoke to an audience. If that's not what the audience was already thinking and feeling, it would have fallen flat.

Now, just being a cop in and of itself isn't bad. That's ridiculous. But there's no doubt that a lot of cops misuse their authority. It's a well-documented fact. That's bad. There is no justifiable excuse for it. That's why it's a crime.

It certainly was understandable that the police were angered by "Cop Killer." There was nothing subtle about it. It was a switchblade and a sledgehammer. It would have been a failure if the cops didn't respond with boiling outrage. "American Skin (41 Shots)" is a specific social criticism. It's not a call to violence. It's a call to conscience--everybody's conscience. It doesn't want to split the police into an us- against-them warring faction. Far from it. The song doesn't even mention the police. There's no embellishment, and very little dramatic manipulation. An innocent man was shot to death by his protectors. 41 shots. It's a terrible indisputable fact.

What the police and their defenders seem to be saying by their overreaction is that they should be above criticism. Even social criticism. Especially social criticism. They're saying that yes, it was a tragic mistake, but now let's move on. We're sad. Let's forget about it. We'll try not to do it again. Police were searching for a rapist who was armed. They were in fear. Sometimes innocent people get killed.

But this is not a war. The man was in his own home. If police and their defenders see "American Skin" as threatening, then they're threatened by casual scrutiny. Now that's scary. [Ron Brown is a television newscaster in Quincy IL).