5. (Lean in & Whispered) “This platform is actually a terrorist target”
6. “Technically you’re not doing anything illegal, but you still can’t do it.”
8. “Have you ever thought of conforming?”
Update: Commissioner Bratton has responded to the public debate, suggesting that performers ‘find another spot.’ No word on whether Bratton is aware of on-going arrests of law-abiding performers on platforms and mezzanines.
In a new post at the Subway Diaries, Heidi Kole comments on the results of the crackdown:
” The performers have been moved on, arrested, ticketed & charged with the crime of self expression. It’s a very sad, bleak & lonely place underground since the new police chief, Bratton’s entrance. Every day now when I go under I get either questioned or ticketed or worse. […]
Thee is no music, no dance, no laughter, no art. There is only the loud rumble of metal on metal of screeching brakes interspersed with NYPD announcements over the loud speaker of what to be ‘afraid’ of.
Meanwhile, Bill de Blasio insists that there is no subway crackdown. According to the Observer, he claims that the spike in arrests is “the result of case-by-case decisions by local police commanders, not a larger shift in policy.” Never mind that those police commanders have no training on the MTA performance rules, and never mind their well-documented/counterfactual belief that performance is a crime. Particularly, says de Blasio, never mind that since January, far more untrained police have been in the MTA than ever before. Nope — there’s no crackdown to see here.
So. Whose account do you believe?
Photo credit: Heidi Kole
Update 4/30: this story has gone around the media in the last 24 hours, and meaningful, positive coverage is streaming in. Maybe New York loves Showtime — is that why the dancers are still there? Join the debate on Twitter under #WarOnShowtime. BuskNYers, let’s give a voice to performers who are popular, who are iconic, and who most of all do not deserve to be saddled with misdemeanor records.
Since the beginning of the ‘subway crackdown‘ this year, arrests of performers on trains have skyrocketed. Some of these arrests have occurred to musicians, and in one case, even to clowns charged with offering nuts to riders. But the brunt of the arrests have targeted one of the most vulnerable groups in the subway: train dancers.
Official numbers have recently come in, and they are bleak. According to a New York Post report, 46 performers have been arrested. Worse, those performers — all 46 — have been charged not with a violation of the MTA Rules, but with reckless endangerment.
Are these dancers in fact reckless hooligans? Far from it. It’s clear that train performers view their work as positive: they highlight that dancing has given them opportunities for success, and that they engage subway riders with optimism and enthusiasm. What’s more, dancers’ broad support among riders is reflected — even if the MTA pays no heed to this statistic — in the outpouring of contributions they receive.
Nonetheless, under Bratton’s explicit directions against dancers, the NYPD has taken the shortest route to criminalization. Ignoring MTA guidelines entirely, police have charged all 46 with misdemeanor reckless endangerment rather than an MTA violation, citing the narrow distance between their performance and subway riders.
In light of the NYPD’s close focus on this art form, two questions should be raised. First, why have the police targeted, among all other subway entertainment, the tradition most practiced by young minority men? Is it possible that the crackdown is coming from the “new system where the MTA shares riders’ complaints with the police,” as reported by the Post? The implication is that Bratton’s subway policy is driven, not by a rational understanding of public safety, but by a witchhunt against those performers perceived to be ‘most annoying.’ If those subway riders most likely to file official MTA complaints also happen to be opposed to manifestations of popular culture, it seems that the police won’t hesitate to assuage their worries, even if it means creating 46 criminal records.
Second, what can explain the decision to charge these performers with misdemeanor reckless endangerment? Was it not appropriate to charge them, far more cogently, with a violation of MTA rules? In the stark absence of actual evidence of dancers causing accidents, the highly theoretical choice of reckless endangerment means the NYPD believes this tradition to be so strong that it requires special means. And for once, they’re right. Summonses alone cannot stop one of the longest-running and most emblematic forms of artistic expression in the MTA.
NYC may diss its train performers often, but it loves them too. That’s why they’re there: they’re popular. That the NYPD has chosen to escalate the fight against artistic performance into a sustained campaign of misdemeanor charges speaks to an attitude that has given up on community policing long ago. And that means the fight isn’t lost yet.
Update March 7th: The New York Times has just run a story reporting that arrests for peddling and panhandling in January and February 2014 have tripled from the same period 2013. As subway performers are often charged for these offenses, that means members of our community have likely already been affected. Please be careful out there: be extra certain to photograph the location you are performing, the level of traffic, the absence of CDs for sale.
Bill Bratton, who famously did his first stint as NYPD commissioner under Rudy Giuliani, wants to make sure beggars and “squeegee pests” don’t return.
To that end, Bratton said this morning, he is planning to go on a series of late-night subway rides next week. The rides will be “in the early morning hours just to get a first hand look of what the city looks like from midnight to four in the morning.”
It’s hard to see this as good news. Bratton is coming out strong for the kind of ‘quality of life’ policing that specializes in wrongful or senseless arrests. And there’s a special focus on the subways, Bratton says:
“We will be focusing on ensuring that aggressive begging and squeegee pests, all of those actives that create fear and destroy neighborhoods, graffiti, all of those seemingly minor things that was so much in evidence in the 80s and early 90s here don’t have the chance to come back.”
To ensure that, Bratton said [Broken Windows theory creator and newly hired NYPD consultant George Kelling] “is going to be focusing on look at parks, public spaces, and the subways.”
What does this mean? Almost certainly that there will be more police underground, and that they will be under pressure to make arrests.
But it doesn’t mean that these officers have received training for quality of life policing. Existing evidence shows that many NYPD officers believe subway performance to be illegal, and that mistaken belief leads to some serious mistakes.
Certainly, no one imagines that one of Bratton’s first moves has been to finally train officers on the laws regarding music, and that means he’s creating a hazard. As Robert Lederman of A.R.T.I.S.T. puts it, “This is exactly how the artist arrests began in 1994 when Bill Bratton became NYPD Commissioner for the first time.”
We’ll soon find out if ‘quality of life’ policing means illegally arresting performers. Stay tuned out there, and stay safe.
Heth and Jed Weinstein, long-time NYC buskers and authors of a busking memoire, have brought music to the MTA both as Music Under New York members and as freelancers. They were also targeted in one of the most visible busking harassment incidents of the last couple years, when, according to their notice of claim, Officer Valdez of the NYPD verbally abused them, physically threatened them, and also harassed them online during his off-hours.
Fortunately, they had video documentation of their claims, and they went to a lawyer in time. Last week, Heth appeared in-person at Busker Ball V to announce that their case against Officer Valdez had been settled:
Today, the story was covered in an article in Staten Island Live. Heth and Jed got in a word out personally:
“We hope that this case will put the city and the NYPD on notice that playing music in public spaces is not a crime, nor should a single police officer’s taste in music affect the constitutional right [to] rock out in public.”
The city is certainly on notice, since they footed the bill to the tune of $15,000 plus lawyers’ fees. But is the NYPD paying attention? Officer Valdez was not disciplined, despite video documentation of Heth and Jed’s claims. What’s more, BuskNY has received an email indicating that Officer Valdez, as recently as last year, harassed a performer and issued a ticket that was later dismissed as baseless.
Perhaps it’s time for the city and police department to take subway performers’ claims seriously. For now, we’ll keep our ears to the ground.
Update: the New Museum says performers concerned about the cold will have some flexibility, including the possibility to play inside. That might be more encouraging for some of us!
We recently received this invitation from a representative of the New Museum:
In connection with an upcoming exhibition, the Polish artist Pawel Althamer will invite street musicians (or musicians who are also playing on the street) to come and play in front of the museum in the museum’s opening hours during the period 12 February – 20 April, 2014.
It is the hope that we can gather a really large and amazing group of musicians representing the diversity of street performance in New York and in this time create a platform and tribute to these musicians. For this engagement we are offering a fee of $15 per hour. (We wish we could pay more, but being a non-profit organization we unfortunately always have a limited budget).
Some information about the exhibition is available here. As I understand, part of the concept is to channel live audio from the performers onto the third floor of the museum. It sounds promising, and I hope a few of us will risk the cold weather to be there. The New Museum representative has invited us to contact her directly.
Greetings from Senegal! I’ve been taking some time off from performing here, but do want to continue adding a few legal tips to the site over the winter. The holiday season is busy down there, so if there are problems to report, let us know!
If you have the bad luck to be arrested or given a summons, it’s important to have accurate information about what you’re charged with.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to get that information. WebCrims, a service of the New York court system, allows you to see your charges, future court dates, and other information concerning open cases with scheduled court appearances. If the police spelled your name correctly — as they intermittently manage to do — you can bring up your case. On the “Case Details” menu on the left, you can find the exact charge, the time of arrest, and any future court dates. The charges should look something like this:
|CO 1050.6 (B
|Infraction, 1 count, Arrest charge, Arraignment charge
|CO 1050.7 (J||Infraction, 1 count, Not an arrest charge, Arraignment charge
Fortunately, the “description” field has been left blank to avoid overwhelming us with information. But the number can help you figure it out. In this case, “1050.6 (B” refers you to paragraph of section 1050.6 of the MTA Rules of Conduct, and “1050.7 (J” to paragraph J of the next section. It’s important to read carefully and not be discouraged. For example, 1050.6 B above prohibits soliciting donations, but 1050.6 C specifically allows performing and accepting donations. The police can cherry-pick language that appears to justify your arrest, and it’s up to you to point out that artistic performance and tipping is allowed!
If you have any difficulties — for example if your name returns no results — there are additional resources on the WebCrims FAQ that can help you work around typos that may have occured on the NYPD’s end. Finally, if you are having a hard time figuring out a charge or finding your charges, please drop a line — we’ll be happy to help!
I’ve had a busy last week, including having my violin repaired and finding this excellent tiny piano, which we brought to Coney Island:
For now it’s farewell! I’m taking off for Senegal this afternoon, and will be there on a Fulbright ETA grant until July 2014.
But that’s not the end of BuskNY. There’s a lot of interest, community-wide, in pursuing advocacy and publicity for public music in transit spaces. We saw that at our event at Armature Art Space on Monday the 7th, we see it with the visibility of “Music is Legal!” t-shirts underground, and we’ve seen it when a number of performers have recently stood up to articulate the MTA Rules to police.
So stay tuned. There will be new folks involved here soon, both with some blog posts and, we hope, with grassroots outreach using our printable flyers. Milo will be continuing the effort on visual art, with our eyes on a gallery show in fall 2014. And Kalan will be keeping up the fight to change problem stations – so please get in touch if you know of a problem with a particular station agent or spot. Keep up the music, and I’ll see you all in summer 2014!
Our first event happened on Monday night, and despite stormy weather, we had a great evening together at Armature Art Space:
One thing we learned is how strongly we all feel the need to advocate for public performances. Many of us have made our own materials explaining what we do:
We also recognized that New York — unlike many cities — already has many strong fans of subway performance. (They don’t always show it on their faces, but polls have repeatedly shown New Yorkers overwhelmingly supporting us, and even getting behind those controversial in-train performers!) This sure seems like the result of post-1985 legalization: if you let talented, dedicated, and generous performers do what they like for nearly 30 years, they can change the face of a city.
Nonetheless, we’d like to see New York even more visibly supportive of performers — and we’d particularly like to combat the widespread misunderstandings about subway music. Many folks support us despite thinking that we’re illicit — so let’s take a load of their backs and tell them that music is legal!
To spread the word, we’ll keep on wearing the shirts, and we’re also planning printable, crowd-sourced, customizable ads for performers’ cases. In the meantime, if you’d go out and start building community yourself — or if you’d like to make sure that the fellow musicians you see every day aren’t doing jail-time without you knowing it — you can print out your own set of BuskNY flyers designed by Kalan:
Here’s the pdf, printable with four flyers to a page. Do you have an idea for a positive/powerful/funny/attention-grabbing/shareable poster? Share the thought with us!
This is the second post in our case database series.
I would write up today’s news that the charges associated with my July 25th arrest were dropped, but there’s very little fanfare to report. When my name was called in court, I didn’t even have fifteen seconds of fame: the judge asked if I was indeed named Matthew Christian, I said I was, and she said: “alright, you’re all set.” And that was that: no paperwork, and not the least crumb of a sense that the city regrets having had me arrested for playing the violin.
There is one very important piece of take-away information from these: having video evidence of your arrest is important. In the video I took, my arresting officer insists that I’m not allowed to perform without a permit. That claim — which he used on video to justify my arrest — doesn’t hold water legal, as there is no such permit. The police flirted briefly with charges for blocking traffic, but since the police in the video had raised no concern about traffic, and since there had been no visible problem with traffic, they changed to a very dated state law concerning train stations.
The assistant district attorney handling my case could evidently see that wouldn’t fly. My Legal Aid attorney informed me a week ago that they had spoken by phone and that the charges would be dropped.
Could this case have gone differently? Sure: my arrest on 6/18 involved precisely the same circumstances, but because I didn’t take a video, I’m still charged with blocking traffic. If my arresting officer from 7/25 claimed that I was blocking traffic, it’s patently obvious that he’s lying; but if my arresting officer from 6/18 claims the same thing, it’s his word against mine. That case will be resolved tomorrow, and unfortunately, the lack of video means I’ll have to accept an ACD.