Performer arrested at Metropolitan Avenue

BuskNY and the performing community were disturbed to learn of a new wrongful arrest. A longtime, well-loved performer was arrested early this morning at Metropolitan Avenue, a key station for Brooklyn performers. Fortunately, he was well-prepared: a copy of the rules of conduct was in play, and the full arrest was documented on video:

BuskNY is preparing a public response to this arrest. Please reach out if you would like to be updated. We thank this performer for standing up to the undocumented and ungrounded ejections that occur daily in New York City — and we believe, as always, that the end of wrongful ejection, ticketing, and arrest is in sight.

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“They are disbanding my family”: NYPD crackdown continues

Nick Malinowski, a civil liberties activist who’s been an active opponent of Bill Bratton’s return to ‘Broken Windows’ policing, recently interviewed Heidi Kole, a long-term busker and busking proponent, over at Alternet.

Image: littleny/Shutterstock

It’s an in-depth interview that gives an inside perspective on the crackdown and its effects on the performing community. Good weekend reading, and a required text for folks reporting on the effects of the #WarOnShowtime. Check it out here.

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.