Case update

Update: I just happened upon this excellent article on the geographic distribution of NYC summons charges. The author describes the use of “disorderly conduct charges …  as a kind of policing panacea — a catch-all charge officers can use against behavior they don’t like.” That’s something we’ve seen too — and when it’s so difficult to have charges dismissed in a timely manner, it’s no wonder that the NYPD isn’t pushed to act lawfully.

Many of you know that I was in Manhattan Criminal Court on Monday and Tuesday. I had been hoping to post an update immediately afterwards with good news, but unfortunately, that didn’t prove to be the case.

On the other hand, it’s not bad news per se. In a nutshell, the only thing that happened was that the courts kicked my two cases down the road a month. Somewhat of a letdown when you’re thinking in terms of right, wrong, and resolution, huh?

In more detail, the situation is this. I’ve been offered an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal, or for the initiated, an ACD. That’s an agreement in which the charges are dropped after six months with no admission of guilt, provided that you don’t rob any banks in the meantime.

Now, the Powers that Be would very much like for me to take an ACD. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to do so: I would still be able to sue over the arrests, and the arrest charges would be sealed. However, I’m a stickler for, y’know, not accepting things involving ‘adjournment’ or ‘contemplation’ when I’ve been arrested for something that is, last time we all checked, specifically okayed by the MTA Rules of Conduct.

Once you’ve turned down the ACD, though, it turns out to be awfully hard to actually get a trial. The prosecution now has a thirty day period to prepare its case for trial, meaning that I’ve been given new appearance dates on October 7th and 8th. In the meantime, various things will be happening that could suspend or set back that thirty day period. (Side note: why the prosecution did not start preparing its case after I turned down the ACD the first time on June 18th is beyond me.)

All of the delays mean that ultimately, I’m likely to show up and be offered another adjournment – and if that adjournment date is after October 14th, I will already have left on my Fulbright grant to Senegal. So if the case is adjourned again, I’ll be forced to take the ACD and waive my right to a trial.

I imagine it’s clear why this was something of a disappointment. I earnestly don’t think it should be so naive to envision having a trial date within four months of an arrest.

Case closed: disorderly traffic summons

This is the first post in our case database. Hoping it grows, to give performers more information about dealing with legal threats in the future.

We had some good news in court today — not for me, but for a friend. She had been issued a pink summons for playing the guitar and singing at 53rd St. Once again, the charge didn’t fit the crime artistic performance: she was facing §240.20, ‘Disorderly Conduct.’ The statute reads:

A person is guilty of disorderly conduct when, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof:
[…]
5. He obstructs vehicular or pedestrian traffic.

Of course, it could have been worse: she could have been charged with section 7, “[creating] a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose.” These laws are so hurtful!

On a more serious note, she went in for her court date and reports having had the charges immediately dropped. So that’s a victory for sanity, for music, and for culture. Cheers, all!

Zoom Balloons in the 14th Street Sixth Avenue Tunnel

On our way back from Harlem, Matthew and I stopped to pick up some cheese at the Westside Market on 14th St. and ran into balloon sculptor Zoom in the tunnel. We had met Zoom a few times before, and in fact still have a gift from him, one of his heart flower balloons, slowly shriveling on top of a dresser.

This time, we got this great balloon clown. Everyone was jealous of it. Or terrified. It was hard to tell.

Matthew and Zoom

Matthew and Zoom

Nothing seems to lower Matthew’s inhibitions quite like holding a silly prop does.  Enjoying the reactions of strangers to the balloon man, he asked our train neighbor what we should name it.

He responded, “Charlie Sheen.”

Matthew and Charlie Sheen

Charlie and Matthew reflected in the train window

Zoom’s web site at http://www.zoomballoons.com/ appears to be down, but I found an article about him on the blog Manalapan Patch. If you’re in the tunnel between the L and the 1 on the 14th St Sixth Avenue station, check out his work!

 

Cheerios, and how I was depicted

I’ve gotten out of the habit of posting busking updates — there aren’t enough hours in the day sometimes! But today saw a couple things that I can’t avoid sharing.

1. At Hunter College, one man bent over to put a dollar in my case while carrying a baby. The baby was carrying a bag of cheerios, and, in the spirit of charity, decided to pour ALL OF THEM INTO MY CASE. In other news, I still had a great day out — apparently busking while surrounded by cheerios doesn’t hurt your earnings too badly.

2. On the Union Square L platform, I ran into Larry and Sonia Wright drumming. (You should click that link by the way — the video will move anyone who’s seen him play). Just down the platform from them was a guy drawing portraits of riders. And right around him were Larry Wright’s sons, waiting to get on the train and dance.

Needless to say, I got my portrait done, there on the platform, surrounded by Larry Wright’s kids and by the sound of bucket drumming. It felt like home.

busking picture

8/20: How I was(n’t) robbed

Today was toasty below-ground, but I had an excellent day out. (And that’s welcome news, given my struggles early this summer. I’ve been having a blast ever since the week of vacation, so clearly things have taken a turn for the better!)

Speaking of ups and downs, here’s a story from today. After a fun and well-paid hour at 86th St, I played on the 53rd St EM platform, which was one of the first places I ever played at the beginning of last summer. It’s a great spot, and I had a blast playing for a very supportive audience. (At one point, I lost a few dollars to the infamous 53rd St wind tunnel — and lo and behold, a guy came up with a big grin and a $5 bill to console me. My hero!)

I finally fixed the wind problem by closing my case and setting it behind me, then opening up my messenger bag on top of the case to accrue donations. That also gave me added protection against the insidious “blocking traffic” charge by consolidating things behind me:

53rd st case

The only downside was that listeners had to go behind me to deposit their money. But hey: though I’ve had my share of bad train service, angry police, unidentifiable dripping gunk, and worse things in the MTA, I’ve never had a reason to mistrust the wonderful people who ride the trains.

After about forty-five minutes, I needed a break and turned over the spot to a duo of drummers. I counted up my lucre in the train and very pleased. But I went to put it in my messenger bag, I found the pocket open. And the money I had made at 86th was no place!

Once I had looked through the bag, I decided that the money wasn’t a big problem. I still had the tips from 53rd anyway, and I had time for another hour or two later on in the afternoon anyway. But what did bother me was the loss of trust in the riders. Sure, I don’t always love ’em, especially when they don’t give. But from the bottom of my heart, I think city folks are good people — and so this was a bummer!

Anyway, turns out there’s not much of a dramatic ending to this story. I had just put my 86th St earnings in a pocket that I usually overlook, and so there they were. (I was happy as a clam, needless to say.)

So thanks, NYC, for being just as good as I’ve always thought you are. That’s saying a lot!

8/17: BuskNY’s back in town!

BuskNY’s back!

The last few days have been busy, both with busking and because I’ve taken on a commitment as the volunteer ESL instructor for a summer after-school program. That said, I’m still finding time to busk and to do community outreach. And we’re looking forward to having Kalan back in town soon as well, which will double our boots on the ground.

In any case, today brought big news. I spoke by phone with a violinist who received a wrongful summons (‘blocking traffic’ for a solo violinist playing in the evening, written expressly once she had asked for the officer’s badge number.) She was adjudicated guilty at her first hearing, but we’ve gotten her in touch with an attorney and are looking forward to a fairer outcome on appeal.

Then, I met another performer who’s received a summons, this time with a charge of ‘disorderly conduct,’ for playing guitar and singing on the platform. Her court date is just before mine, at the beginning of September, and we’re looking forward to seeing that thrown right out with a lawsuit to boot.

And finally, I met a jazz saxophonist — an excellent one — who’s been arrested no fewer than five times for acoustic, rule-abiding performances. Is that unjust? Well, apparently New York City judges think so: they’ve dropped the charges all five times. Can’t even say how much I look forward to seeing this go back to a court of law — this time with the real wrong-doers as the defendants.

Pretty exciting for one day’s developments. Justice, justice, we’ll get you one day!

7/26: What happened next? And what happens next?

Update 7/27: We’re getting huge traffic from reposts and from Gothamist. Want to keep hearing from us? Hit like on our Facebook page. And, you’ll be seeing us around in the subway — just look for performers wearing bright “Music is Legal!” t-shirts!

Hi all. Last night’s post and video-editing took 100% of the energy I had after the arrest, and I didn’t get around to the end of the story. Here’s an update for the morning, both on my experience at the stationhouse and on what comes next for us.

First off, the HMS BuskNY ain’t sinking yet. We’re taking off for the screenprinting studio in half an hour, rolling 135 blank t-shirts on a dolly. The fronts will be printed by the end of the day, with the backs coming tomorrow. So by mid-next week, Kalan and I will be hitting the tunnels & platforms for outreach harder than we have yet, each carrying a bag of shirts, a stack of flyers, and a notebook full of email addresses. We’re building the first community mailing list, we’re creating an incident database for the day this issue gets a hearing, and we’re checking through the community for stories of summonses, harassment, and arrests that are still within the three-year statute of limitations. Meanwhile, you’ll start seeing “Music is Legal!” around the city. Hold fast!

Now, to finish up the story from last night: I was arrested just after the last video in that series. (By the way, we’ve also uploaded the full footage to give as much context as possible. You can see it here). The decision to arrest was made by Sgt. Robson.

Now, it’s my understanding that Officer Kennedy — who receives kudos for his calmness and politeness — really did believe his version of the rules, i.e. that performances are allowed only on mezzanines. He didn’t seem to agree completely with them — as he said, “it’s not my rules, it’s the MTA rules” — but he was still committed to clearing me out of the station when he saw me.

However, he didn’t want it to involve an arrest. Rather, he wanted it to happen “voluntarily” — which is a terme d’art for “under intimidation with no official documentation.” Officers like the fiction that we scuttle off in shame when we’re ‘caught’ breaking the rules. But the reality is that we know full well, every last one of us, that we’re allowed to play. We’re simply scared shitless, and we vacate the stations because we know crystal clearly that the alternative is arrest.

The biggest shame is that these interactions of extra-judicial intimidation are never documented. We are asked to leave verbally and without any sort of justification — e.g. Officer Kennedy’s “not today”! No document is ever created to record this, and indeed, Officer Kennedy refused to create one through a summons (which I requested). Instead, he wanted me to “just get out of here” with no evidence of the interaction, no stated cause, and a hill of beans to go to the MTA or CCRB with.

When I suggested to him that he choose either a summons or an arrest, but avoid extralegal harassment, that’s how the hour-long saga began. He was not confident enough to choose arrest, but also didn’t want to back down. So, he called a supervisor — allegedly to have me arrested — but who ultimately arrived, talked with him, and then left. He then waited until I performed again, then came to confront me again and gave me a second ultimatum to leave, extralegally, with no documentation. I again insisted on documentation, and backup was called for a second time. Officer Bastien then gave me his own ultimatum, again asking me to leave “voluntarily.” (These guys love when you do things “voluntarily” — i.e. when you comply with an unrecorded verbal order whose only alternative is arrest. Do you think that’s because it cuts down on paperwork? Or because it’s harder to substantiate allegations against them? Or is it just callousness?)

In any case, when I turned down the third ultimatum for “voluntary” departure — which would still have been undocumented despite the presence of at least six officers and two supervisors — then things had to proceed to arrest. (Remember, in the world of “voluntary” choices, every carrot has to have its stick). So when Officer Bastien gave Sgt. Robson the news that I wouldn’t leave, then the choice was made for arrest without hesitation.

I was held for four hours at the Columbus Circle stationhouse. Officer Kennedy appeared to have cold feet ever after the arrest — I believe he had ended up with no way to back down from an arrest he knew was wrong. In any case, he came over after a couple hours and said he’d recommended me for a DAT (Desk Appearance Ticket), a form of early release that’s given conditionally. I haven’t had one before.

By the way, charges (“soliciting,” “blocking traffic”) do not appear on my DAT. This was confirmed by ecourts.ny.us, where my name returned last night with an open case from 7/25 with no entry under “charges,” and this morning returns only my arrest from June (!). We’ll see if a decision is reached by the DA after the weekend.

18/7: How to request the MTA rules booklet

Update: we eventually found a source of official MTA rules pamphlets. They’re available in Downtown Brooklyn at the Transit Adjudication Bureau. The address is 29 Gallatin Place, and the pamphlets are on the 3rd floor on the rack outside the elevator.

Lately we’ve been picking up an increased amount of traffic from Google. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about a flood of thousands yet! But there is definitely targeted traffic coming from buskers — and indeed, last night I got an email with a question specifically on busking legality.

So, like I mentioned yesterday, we’re planning to post more tips and resources for musicians, all the way from macro (class-action suit, you say?) to micro. Today’s subject is how to get your hands on a official booklet version of the MTA Rules of Conduct.

Many of you have seen me walking around, doing my folk-lawyer act, with my trusty blue-and-white booklet of the MTA Rules of Conduct. In fact, I often have it lying in my case while I perform:

IMG_0191

It’s pretty visible, and it may remind transit officers doing routine station-checks that my work is permitted. Who knows — maybe having it out even provides a measure of protection to other buskers? And on a more pragmatic note, I suspect it may even make me a teensy bit more money. We all know where our priorities are!

To request a booklet, go to the MTA online comment tool. You can choose from several categories of request, and I believe either “MTA-wide” or “MTA Police (non-emergency only)” would be a good bet. Then, just write that you’d like to have a copy sent to you, and include your mailing address. You’ll receive a booklet in about two weeks.

Want two copies, to create the much-desired akimbo justice effect? Just ask a friend to submit his or her own request! When it comes to law, the more, the merrier.