“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.

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10 Favorite NYPD Quotes on Busking

Heidi Kole posted this brilliant list today at the Subway Diaries. BuskNY has tacked on a couple at the bottom — anyone care to add further?
1. “Oh those rules, yeah I know all about those rules, we don’t care about the rules.”
2. “What rules?”
3. “Heidi, I thought we had an agreement? You wouldn’t sing & I wouldn’t bother you?”
copsupbway
4. “Oh that that First Amendment thing again, we’ve heard of that, it doesn’t matter, you’re still getting a ticket.”

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.”
7. “I’m gonna give you a ticket ’cause my supervisor wants to see I’m doing something useful, but once I”m gone you can start singing again.”

8. “Have you ever thought of conforming?”
9. “Don’t start getting rulezy with me.”
10. “I AM THE LAW!” (For proper pronunciation, lean on that first ‘a’ for a bit).

 

 

6th Busker Ball


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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Police and police reform: How I didn’t get shot

You might have noticed that we talk a lot about the police around here. As a matter of fact, we’ve even been wrongfully arrested a few times; and we wish to heck that the police would do things differently. So, many people conclude, we must also be an inherently anti-police organization.

And precisely that isn’t true. Everyone working on this project is a city resident, and we know why it’s important, particularly in low-income communities, that residents be protected. Academically, I also know that Michelle Alexander, whose work focuses on police and justice system reform, strongly defends the fundamental mission of police in urban communities, writing so early in The New Jim Crow. Because of all that, in a phrase bound to shock you all, we’ll say this: BuskNY supports the police just as much as we support police reform.

I imagine eyebrows are being raised about that claim, and so I’ll add a little story. On a Friday evening two and a half weeks ago, when I was walking back to the apartment after teaching, I heard gunshots behind me just as I reached my block. I turned around, and lo and behold: on the opposite corner of the street was a guy firing a 9mm down the neighboring avenue. I ducked behind a car’s engine block and waited.

Fortunately, when you live in a city, you’re not powerless. I called 911, and after a few seconds, I ducked out and moved up to the corner to see where the shooter was headed. When a police cruiser arrived with a minute, I hopped in. We drove a block and a half, I saw the guy who’d been shooting, pointed him out, and the officers stopped him. He’s now facing multiple charges, and I’m a grand jury witness.

I think this story is instructive for two reasons. First, it shows that the police keep communities safe, in this case by arresting a guy for shooting next to a school. Second, it shows that the police depend on their communities. In order to make that arrest, the police needed information from me. And that’s not an exception but a rule: police need community support to make arrests and to conduct investigations. And we won’t even get into the importance of trust and respect to calm down dangerous and violent situations. (How does a police force handle a disturbance when it’s broadly hated? Can that ever end well? And can we imagine it ending well when a police force is broadly liked and respected?)

So when a police department is routinely disrespectful, routinely uses excessive force, and routinely expresses a overt lack of interest in the law it is supposed to defend, that will impair its effectiveness.

My story from a few weeks back has one more chapter. I got out of the police car once the officers had handcuffed the shooter. That’s when backup arrived. As I watched, they stopped three young men walking down the sidewalk from a different direction. They held them against a wall and searched them, finding nothing. Another man came up, unaware of the shooting, and asked why the police had searched and released them. An officer, whose name I don’t know, walked up and shouted:

GET OUT OF HERE, YOU CAN SUCK MY DICK.

The man left. I pretended not to hear. Within a few minutes, the police took the shooter back to the 83rd Precinct, and I accompanied them to make a written statement. While I was writing the statement, in an area of the stationhouse office routinely used for guests, I noticed the envelopes addressed to various officers that were hanging on the wall. Prominent among them was an enveloped labeled:

FOR JOEY RAMOS

IS GAY

I finished my statement. I pretended I didn’t notice.

What’s the moral of this story? Well, I wrote at the beginning of the post that I support the police, and I’ll write it again here. I’m glad that the police were there to arrest a man for committing a shooting.

But I’ll add this: I’m twenty-two. I’ve been hit by a police officer. I’ve seen police officers use disrespectful and homophobic language on multiple occasions. I live in a minority-majority area. My neighbors are racially profiled. I’ve seen police officers disregard the law. I’ve seen police officers arrest other musicians. I’ve seen police officers ignore the rules and tell me not to mention the rules. I’ve had police officers threaten me with violence. I’ve had police officers twist my handcuffs to hurt me. I’ve had cuts on my wrists from handcuffs, and cuts to my hips and elbows from being dragged. I’ve had cuts to my head from being thrown into a wall. And I also helped stop a crime two and a half weeks ago. I’m like every last person in this community: we are the people the police need. 

So if you ask me for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (so help me God), then here it is:

I support the police and it is a daily challenge for me to do so. I support the police in spite of the police, in spite of the beatings, in spite of the racial profiling, and most of all in spite of the ongoing, callous, crude, and regrettable disrespect to all of us who live here.

Now, if you’ve never dealt with the police, I’m sure it’s easy to be for them. If you have, it gets harder. If you’re a musician, if you’re Black, if you’re sleeping on a train, if you’re walking down the sidewalk in the wrong place, if you’re Hispanic, or if you’re a faggot, then it becomes very hard, very hard indeed to support your police department wholeheartedly.

A police department that treats city residents poorly — whether by hitting them, by searching them without reason, or by admitting that it just doesn’t care about the rules — is not winning any respect. And more importantly, It’s not protecting city residents as well as it could. So even if you (you, NYPD! you, Raymond Kelly!), care solely about public safety and not at all about respect, or courtesy, or professionalism, or eliminating racism and homophobia, for public safety alone you should ask your police department not to publicly belittle, insult, or harass your public.

Does this all relate to BuskNY? Yes, it does. I said at the beginning that we support the police and that we support police reform. And how we do that is simple: we advocate for the police to know the subway rules concerning the most major form of non-transit use of the MTA, to speak respectfully to artists, and to see artists as community members ready to cooperate, not as enemies.

When we argue that musicians should carry the rules, that they shouldn’t give in to unrecorded coercive threats, and that yes, they should sue when their civil rights are violated, we don’t say it because we oppose the police. We say it because we believe that the police should be doing their work better. Though the NYPD does not, we believe they can do their work better; and though the NYPD does not, we want to hold them to a higher standard. Many jokes are made in this city about the motto “Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect,” but I find it’s a pretty good slogan. I even believe the police can live up to it one day.

What I say to you is: police reform doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens around specific issues and specific communities. So a movement that protects musicians and that stands up for the rules is fighting, incrementally, the same battle as any other police reform initiative. We want the police to work with our community, we want them to trust us, and we want to be able to trust them. We believe a police officer who’s willing to read a copy of the MTA rules is a better police officer than one who starts threatening, not just for musicians, but for everyone — including for the NYPD. And when the police learn that lesson, maybe they’ll have learned something greater: that working with the city, and respecting the city, is the better kind of policing.

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!

8/3: Parrots, buckets, and my burgeoning love for the NYPD

Today, Milo and I spent a few hours doing outreach. What I’m learning is that community organizing is a bit-by-bit process: every day brings a few new conversations, a few more names on the mailing list, and a few more t-shirts out in the world. That may sound romantic — but is it ever slow-going as well.

Still, we’re building something important. Today at 14th St, we saw a large green parrot on someone’s shoulder on the platform — and we also ran into Don the bucket drummer, playing a Kikkoman soy sauce bucket like the world was about to end:

Don

A couple hours later, we ran into a cellist who had already seen Don in his shirt. So, we know that word’s spreading!

I also busked for about an hour and a half, in two different stations, with Milo taking some pictures. I learned that I have an incredible ability to make weird faces while playing:

Peek!

Would you tip a guy who looks like that?

Anyway, one more story from today. When we arrived at the 59th St 6 station, we saw a police officer across the platform. Like I mentioned in the last post, I’m feeling a bit tired of going to jail for music — but ever hopeful for the best, I unpacked and asked Milo to take video if she came over.

Indeed, she came by within five minutes and asked if I had a permit. “What permit?,” I asked. “Have you ever seen one?” “No,” she said, a bit sheepishly, “although you do see those banners.” I then showed her my rules, and after taking a careful look, she had this to say:

“Thanks for showing me this. Now I know.”

Now there’s a hopeful sign indeed. (If only — if only — but if ONLY the NYPD offered training on this!)