The Strokes to perform at Bernie Sanders Rally
Credit: Roger Woolman

Revisiting The Strokes’ electric performance of anti-police brutality anthem ‘New York City Cops’, 2001

Today we are taking a trip down the Far Out archives all the way back to 2001, revisiting a moment when The Strokes burst onto the scene and solidify the foundations for a decade of indie music dominating culture.

However strong their sound traffic, one factor that is not often mentioned about the band is their political voice, one that went largely unnoticed by their mainstream audience. Here, with this thunderous live version of the politically charged ‘New York City Cops’, The Strokes are at their anarchic best.

‘New York City Cops’ would set a high-water mark for the noughties, the band furiously sticking two fingers firmly in the air at the American regime that is sadly even more relevant almost 20 years later.

The political anthem against police brutality was written in response to the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo. The 23-year-old Guinean immigrant was unarmed when he was shot and killed by four plainclothes policemen in New York City who incorrectly thought that Diallo was reaching for a gun. The truth, however, was that the innocent man was, in fact, pulling out his wallet which tragically similar to the recent death of George Floyd.

Diallo’s death also inspired Bruce Springsteen to write the poignant ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ which The Boss played on his radio show last week and commented: “That song is almost eight minutes long. That’s how long it took George Floyd to die with a Minneapolis officer’s knee buried into his neck. That’s a long time. That’s how long he begged for help and said he couldn’t breathe. The arresting officer’s response was nothing but silence and weight. Then he had no pulse. And still, it went on… May he rest in peace.”

The Strokes’ effort was originally featured on their debut album Is This It in the States but removed after the September 11th terror attack because it featured the line “New York City cops ain’t too smart”, a factor which would appear insensitive at the time. Instead, it was replaced by ‘When It Started’ on the US version.

Casablancas spoke with Vulture in 2018 about how the political aspect of The Strokes and, more significantly, how it was often overlooked in their early song: “When it was taken of the album after 9/11, the political element got removed from the band’s narrative,” he said.

In the same interview, Casablancas discussed his repeated efforts to always attempt to ensure that he is on the right side of history. Focusing on his drive to stand up for the oppressed, who don’t necessarily have the same voice he is fortunate enough to have, the Strokes man said: “Step one is being informed. I just feel pulled to this kind of struggle. The struggle could have been against England way back in the day. It could have been the civil-rights struggle. There have always been oppressive governmental systems but there’s a new form of that happening now and people need to step up.”

In recent years, The Strokes can’t be accused of being apolitical. However, with ‘New York City Cops’ taking on a life of its own again after a performance at Bernie Sanders rally earlier this year while they were swarmed by uniformed police trying and failing to calm things down, they went to a new level.

Relive their performance of ‘New York City Cops’ from 2001 at Scotland’s T in The Park just a matter of weeks before the release of their debut album which, sadly, feels even more poignant today as it did back then.

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