Advice from Court

Matthew asked for a bit of ‘advice’ for any buskers facing a hearing for either a wrongful ticket or arrest while Busking the NYC Subways.

My advice in a nutshell to any buskers facing a cop in court for wrongful ticket or arrest is be prepared ….I might even go so far as to say, even if for your own sanity, be overly prepared.

  • Know your facts as to exactly what happened; dates, times what exactly you were doing, when & where.
  • Study & know the MTA Rules & Regulations or have a copy with you as those are your rights in that pamphlet.
  • Be prepared to depose the Officer who issued either the ticket or ordered the arrest. Write and rehearse your deposition & if you need it,  get help from someone who has been through this for busking or anything for that matter. Do whatever it takes, but be prepared (as intimidating as this part may seem to read & digest,  trust me, the process will empower you).
  • Dress professionally – especially if you’re being wrongly accused of panhandling as that effort alone not only shows respect for the court, but already visually tosses the charge out the window if you look 100% put together & professional. One other thing dressing professionally accomplishes in my opinion is it allows you, the accused busker to more cleanly represent yourself as you look & hence feel like a ‘different person’ thus putting distance between you, the busker & you representing the busker. Trust me, it makes it a lot easier.
  •  And be respectful of the system even though we all know it’s rigged. The thing is the cops only know one thing ….being a cop. They are, on average not intellectuals. In the system underground their tools are tickets, guns & cuffs. In the courtroom they are without any of these tools. And unless they hire a lawyer to represent them, if you know your stuff and I mean really know your stuff the court can only respect you for that and it makes their job and by association your life a whole lot easier.

Heidi Kole

www.thesubwaydiaries.com

#BuskingRocks

docs

Heidi Kole on subway crackdown

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?

Subway Heidi

Photo credit: Heidi Kole

 

 

6th Busker Ball


buskerball6 036
Last Thursday was the 6th Busker Ball at Spike Hill, and BuskNY was there to give another report on the state of buskers’ rights in NYC.

Shiloh Levy gave a speech about the recent and planned further increases in enforcement of “quality of life crimes” (which results in increased enforcement of fictional laws as well.) Matthew asked me to check out Union Square a couple weeks ago and I went up and down every line; it was totally silent underground except for a single MUNY performer and a religious pamphlet table. Since then buskers have begun to return, but in smaller numbers, and I haven’t seen a churro vendor anywhere since.

buskerball6 039
Meanwhile Kalan, whose recent arrest has prompted some pretty bizarre political commentary as well as the more straightforward news coverage, arranged his equipment and assorted beasts, and ended the presentation with puppetry and balloon music.

buskerball6 047buskerball6 054

In other news, last night I managed to make it down to open mic night at Goodbye Blue Monday for the first time since the place was saved from shutting down. In addition to coming out to the Busker Ball next time, I encourage everybody to check out GMB on a Tuesday night or whenever you can, and make sure the place doesn’t suddenly evaporate like Pearl Paint.

Is 2014 the end of subway dancing?

Update 4/30: this story has gone around the media in the last 24 hours, and meaningfulpositive 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.

break-dancer2

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.

Subway sweeps: Bratton announces clampdown

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. 

From Capital New York, via A.R.T.I.S.T.:

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.

Harassment lawsuit SETTLED; nothing learned for Officer Valdez

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.

Fifth Busker Ball

Theo Eastwind suggested we sell the leftover “Music is Legal!” t-shirts at the 5th Busker Ball last Thursday at Spike Hill so I went to set up a merchandise table and took a lot of blurry shots of the show. We even got one of our shirts pinned up to the curtain with Blueberry Season pins.

photo taken by Shiloh Levy

photo by Shiloh Levy


It was a great show! I encourage anybody who missed it to come to the next Busker Ball on April 24th– and ask Theo about getting involved if you want to perform.


BUSKERBALL 036


BUSKERBALL 038Shiloh and Heth talking about BuskNY

Shiloh Levy gave a presentation about buskers’ rights explaining what BuskNY is all about, followed by Heth of Heth and Jed who discussed his recent legal victory. I gave the last ten or so shirts to Arthur and Shiloh to distribute, so now I have room for the 2014 shirts. We learned a lot about what people want in a shirt from the first run, so I’m planning on doing something a little more complicated, and with a more inclusive message. There may be another Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for materials and equipment. I’ll keep you updated!

Fourth Busker Ball at Spike Hill

This Wednesday I attended the fourth Busker Ball at Williamsburg bar Spike Hill, an event organized by Theo Eastwind that features performances by New York City buskers. Arthur Medrano and Shiloh Levy performed wearing their BuskNY “Music is Legal!” t-shirts.

Shiloh and Arthur at the 4th Busker Ball

Shiloh and Arthur

Ken Ruan went on second, and has also given me permission to use his photo here. Since I don’t have any training as a photographer, I considered myself pretty lucky to get some shots of everybody that weren’t totally blurry.

Ken Ruan

Ken Ruan

Great performances by everyone involved. Jess Goular at BreakThru Radio has written a more detailed article about the event,

We hope to see you at the next Busker Ball on January 23, 2014.

Regarding Charity

Hello everyone, my name is Arthur Medrano. I am a contributor on this blog and a fellow busker. I am hoping to inform you today about the nature of charity.

Busking in the subway today is a very hard job. Performers often play over a lot of noise and conversation. Sometimes, they are ignored and often go hours without making a ton of money, but if you’re like me, you love what you do and you keep coming back. The nature of buskers is to bring as much culture back into the city as possible while netting a few bucks to help pay for their stay. However, this often seems like an insurmountable task. There have been days where I’ve felt like I’m only worth what I’m making and at times, yes, it was $2 per 2 hours of playing. Still, it’s not a reflection of my talent or anything that I bring to the craft, it’s a reflection of the people around me.

A few weeks ago, I was playing on a subway platform in lower Manhattan and I wasn’t doing too hot for the first 45 minutes. I stuck it out though because I figured there’d be someone out there who would appreciate what I was doing. Those days, I played in a similar area and I saw a man who’d come every day at the same time to pick through the trash. He was homeless. He carried around bags of his belongings and often he’d score some grub from the trash can. Well, as I played, I saw a man approach the homeless man with an apparent look of concern. He fished through his wallet and pulled out two ones. The homeless man humbly refused the money. The man looked surprised, but instead of looking to me as I was playing, he put the money back in his wallet and walked off.

Although I was performing, I could feel my jaw just drop. I was unable to process the context of the situation with its relation to my situation. That man, who was willing to give money to a homeless person, refused to give money to a busker who was in proximity of this situation.

Now, if you’ll understand me correctly, buskers are not rich people. Most of the buskers that I know supplement their income with the money they make from playing. A few buskers manage to pay their rent and live frugally with their winnings. Still, there is a divide which many people cannot see – without that supplementary income, many buskers would have to give up their passions so that they could provide just enough to get by.

Busking isn’t ordinary. It’s extraordinary. It has the power to change people’s minds and shape how they feel for the rest of the day. Why is it that people aren’t aware that buskers deserve to be paid for sharing their passions?

If you see a busker, do me a favor, go up to them and at least talk to them. Busking can be an alienating venture, but if more people are wiling to engage performers not just with donations, but with words, we would be better off and maybe we wouldn’t have to worry where that next dollar is coming from.

8/22: Progress in the making

BuskNY would like to congratulate the New York City Council for doing the right thing today, and express thanks to everyone who’s worked to advocate for the decision that was made. New York City will now have a police inspector, as well as an end to the Stop and Frisk program. That’s a step for greater oversight and greater respect, and like everyone focused on police accountability, we couldn’t be happier.

That’s all for now — we’re taking the night off to celebrate. But more on police and police reform soon!