It’s not every day a children’s song stirs up controversy. But that’s exactly what’s happening in Iowa City.
The song, which has anti-law enforcement tones, appeared on the CD “For Kids and By Kids: Iowa Rock City Volume 1,” and was released in March. The lyrics now are making the rounds on social media and has some police officers saying it’s creating an “us versus them” mentality.
The album featured bands made up of preschool and elementary students as well as local musicians, including the band the Ratings, who sang the song, “Hold Your Hands Up.”
A segment of the lyrics include: “Here come the boys in blue/not really sure what to do/Hold your hands up/ ... 1 2 3 4/think they’re gonna shoot some more/5 6 7 8/why don’t we retaliate/Hold your hands up.”
Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said the song took him by surprise. He first heard about it Thursday on Facebook after it was shared by a friend who is a Coralville police officer.
“It’s disappointing,” he said. “There’s no reason to work on tearing down the relationship between law enforcement and the community. I get freedom of speech and all, but it’s still hurtful.”
Iowa City Police Department Capt. Doug Hart shared similar feelings.
“I do appreciate the artistic nature of the group’s opinion, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for a children’s CD,” he said.
The recent wave of anti-police sentiment across the country from events such as the shootings in Ferguson, Mo., and North Charleston, S.C., can affect a community’s perception of its local law enforcement departments, Hart said.
“We know there’s more work to do, and we are making an earnest effort,” he added.
The police department has worked hard to build relationships within the community, through programs such as the Youth Police Academy, which is designed to teach children and teenagers about local public safety issues, he said.
Sponsors of the project had mixed reactions. Dwight Seegmiller, president of Hills Bank & Trust Co. — which donated money to the CD — called Pulkrabek Thursday morning to apologize and reinforce the bank’s support and appreciation of law enforcement, Pulkrabek said.
“It has come to our attention (Thursday) that one of the songs negatively portrays law enforcement,” the bank said in a statement on its website. “We sincerely regret our association with this and will take appropriate steps to help prevent this in the future. We cannot emphasize enough our gratitude for the services that law enforcement provides to our communities.”
Meanwhile, the Iowa City Public Library, which streamed the tracks and offers the songs in its catalog, had no comment about the situation.
Ratings band member Luke Tweedy could not be reached for comment. But in the initial release of the CD, he commented in the liner notes that “What I found most interesting is what people perceived as a kids’ song. As you can hear, there is a wide range of styles, from lullabies to goofy to lesson songs. I think the artists all had to pull from a different area of their creative selves to write in a slightly different style than they are used to.”
When reached by phone while traveling in New York, Kembrew McLeod, a communication studies professor at the University of Iowa and executive producer of the CD, had not yet heard about the recent concerns and negative reactions.
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As executive producer, McLeod said he approached local artists and commissioned the songs, but chose not to censor any of the music.
He added that he understands why police officers could be frustrated by the song, adding he’s heard children’s songs in the past that are irreverent toward teachers.
“But a child’s song does not just have to be pleasant and simple and happy,” he said. “It’s a version of what it’s like to be a kid.”