7/30: Rules pamphlets: Update

Update 7/31: Further detective work has uncovered a new lead on pamphlets in downtown Brooklyn. The crack BuskNY team is headed over to investigate and will let you know if pamphlets are found.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post on how to request an MTA rules pamphlet. This was important to be able to demonstrate to MTA officials and to police what the rules say, and it also makes a visual impact when it’s sitting in the case.

As a matter of fact, this booklet is even recommended by the NYPD’s own crime prevention page:

“All persons who are interested in performing on the subway and who wish to avoid violating the law are strongly advised to contact New York City Transit beforehand to get a copy of the Rules of Conduct, as well as a more complete explanation of their requirements.”

When I wrote that post, I submitted my own new request for the booklet through MTA.info to check if the process was working. Four days later, on 7/22, I received this response:

“We truly appreciate your interest in New York City Transit.  The information you requested may be available under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).  You must submit an electronic FOIL request to the appropriate MTA Agency via the FOIL Request page on the MTA web site.  If you send an electronic FOIL request in any other way or to the wrong agency, you will not receive the records you are seeking.  You may submit an electronic FOIL request at http://new.mta.info//foil.htm.  Be sure to select the appropriate MTA Agency.”

This was not what’s supposed to happen — but I went ahead and completed a FOIL request addressed to MTA Headquarters. Two days later, on 7/24, I received this response:

“In response to your FOIL request, below is the link from the MTA website  for the New York City Transit Rules of Conduct
http://www.mta.info/nyct/rules/TransitAdjudicationBureau/rules.htm
This completes the MTA’s response to your FOIL request.”

I replied that I needed a physical copy of the booklet, and was immediately emailed a phone number to call the woman I was emailing with. I called, and she said that I should go to the New York Transit Authority building at 130 Livingston St., Brooklyn to get a copy in person. I took down the address, and although things were interrupted by my arrest, I got down there yesterday on the 29th:

NYTA Building

I walked in, but to no avail: the check-in staff told me they had never even heard such a question before and couldn’t tell me where to go. And without a specific office to go to, I wasn’t even allowed in the building.

Fortunately, I’m not easily dissuaded. I called up the MTA representative I had spoken with before, and she said she could call around to find out. She then emailed back with this:

“I called someone at New York City Transit; she has a Rules of Conduct booklet dated 2005 (which I am told is the most recent); if you want to pick it up, you can call [redacted] or she can mail it to you.”

I called the new number, gave my address, and was told that the pamphlet will be mailed out. “In fact, it’s my very last copy,” she said. “Wait, then I have another question,” I said. “I know a number of other musicians who need this pamphlet, and one has already told me that mta.info responds that the supply is exhausted. Who can we call?”

She was unsure.

I emailed back the MTA representative from before, explained about the warning on the NYPD site, and asked if she was aware of any remaining stock of pamphlets. She said she would inquire. Three hours later, she replied with this:

“I am told that the Rules of Conduct brochure has not been printed for several years.  The link you provided to me is from the NYPD website, which does not appear to be up-to-date.  The Rules of Conduct on the MTA website are current.  I was also informed that abbreviated rules are posted in some stations on the front of station booths.”

Now, I am not sure if she’s aware that officers routinely ignore home-printed rules on 8.5×11.” I do assume she’s aware that we are not allowed to play in front of station booths where the abbreviated rules are posted. But in any case, I wrote back with this:

“The link I provided is dated 2013.”

I haven’t heard back yet, but I’ll keep pushing. In the meantime, I’d invite anyone who’s filed a request and had it turned down to drop me an email so I can get a rough count. Again: it is NOT fair for the NYPD to request a pamphlet that cannot be obtained.

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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.