86th St: meet the station agent who has everyone arrested

I got a tip from a performer recently about a problem at 86th and Broadway. He was able to be quite specific about the problem: apparently, the station agent on the weekday afternoon shifts calls police every time she hears music, which has led to a number of arrests.

I made a trip up there today to see what the problem was. The station agent was very forthcoming about having called the police because of music on the platform. I showed her a copy of the rules, which she said she had never seen before. After a careful reading of the section about permitted non-transit activities, she said she now shared my opinion, but that she would still call her supervisor when she heard music. (According to her, station agents are trained to call their supervisors whenever they hear music. Fact or fiction? Maybe FOIL can tell us).

At this point, I asked her to confirm her claim with the Music Under New York office at the MTA. Surprise, she said: she is only able to call her supervisor and no one else. She did, however, agree to “call someone” to “come sort this out.”

After a fifteen minute wait, who arrived but a police officer. I showed her the rules pamphlet and she agreed that I’d be okay playing in the station. (She did ask why I had taken a picture of the station agent’s badge, which is required to be displayed in window of every station booth. Apparently the station agent had complained, in her call to the police, that a member of the public had dared record her badge number. I’m sure the MTA will love to hear that an employee was retaliating for having her badge number recorded.)

The police officer then went into the station booth to speak with the station agent for a few minutes. When she came back out, she had changed her opinion: it’s not okay to play on the platform, she said, but only on the mezzanine and only with a “license.”

I then showed her the pamphlet again, and provided the MUNY phone number so that she could confirm that no license was needed. She was convinced regarding MUNY, but seemed to think that the sections mentioning noise and blocking traffic provided a blanket justification for arresting and jailing any performer who ever performs on 86th St between the hours of 1 and 9 PM.

There was only one thing to do at that point. I pulled out a copy of the settlement notice from my lawsuit and told her that the last police officer to share her opinion cost the City of New York thirty thousand dollars. That made her doubt herself again. She said she would check with her sergeant about the rules, and invited me in to the 59th St precinct to discuss the matter further.

The only problem there? Well, the sergeant in question once threw me out of 59th St for daring to show him a copy of the rules (itself currently the topic of a CCRB investigation). So I doubt that the issue will get a fair hearing — at least, that is, until my two arrests from this summer cause some lawsuits to land at the 59th St doorstep.

And as far as the station agent goes? I’ll be filing a complaint shortly about the badge number reprisal and the harassment of performers. Given that my complaint about harassment at 81st generated a personal phone call and a promise to speak with the employee in question, I have high hopes. 86th St, we’ll bring the music back yet!

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7/29: How to sue for a wrongful summons

Update at 7:30 PM: I spoke with Paul Hale of Hale Legal Group this afternoon, and he said he’d be more than willing to take on summons cases for the performing community. I think we’ve found our guy.

I emailed back and forth recently with a prominent arts advocate. He had big news: if you receive a wrongful summons, you can go ahead and sue for it.

I followed up on this with Galluzzo & Johnson, and it was confirmed that a wrongful summons is potentially an easy target for a lawsuit. (Remember — even if your officer was polite, and even if he or she mentioned pretexts like blocking traffic, your summons was still wrongful if you weren’t clearly breaking a law).

Your first step after getting a summons should be to get it dismissed at the adjudication. I haven’t done this personally, but it’s said to be easily done. We’re hoping to observe the process and post tips soon. (You can also talk to a lawyer at any point for a consultation, although you can’t typically sign the retainer agreement to start a suit until after your charges have been dropped or you’ve received an ACD.)

After that, you can go ahead and get going with a lawyer. Alternatively, you can even file a notice of claim yourself with this form, and the city may settle without you needing a lawyer. (I suspect it’d best to work with someone for now, at least until we know the ropes better).

Last item: if you contact us, we can send additional information privately, cheer for you during the process, and potentially even help your attorney document other cases of harassment to support you. Let’s get this show on the road!

Busking log 6/28: end of the month, start of a project

Well, it’s the 28th, which means it’s almost time to make rent. And, thanks to the traveling I did this month, my pile of $1 bills isn’t tall enough to make that happen. Odetta said it best:

My sweetheart, he’d like to get married
I’d like to settle down
But I can’t save a penny a day
Cause I go ramblin’ round, boy
Cause I go ramblin’ round.

On the other hand, I’m excited that BuskNY is off to a good start. We’re set up with Facebook and Twitter now, and the social media prowess of Jon Christian has sent over some thoughts on how to use this format to our best advantage in spreading concrete tips on buskers’ rights. (Our dream, lest we forget, is to make sure no one can Google “busking arrest” without learning that lawsuits are a possibility — something which was nowhere online when I was arrested two years ago).

We’ll be starting to promote the site right about now, and beginning our much-looked-forward-to leaflet campaign very soon. So welcome, everyone, from BuskNY. We hope you’ll stick around for the show!