Printing the “Music is Legal!” shirts

The shirts arrived Thursday evening, and since I only had two days available to print them before losing access to my studio space (and I’m spending Sunday helping to install my show at the Painting Center), we had to rush to get them done.

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135 t-shirts

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Printing the first shirt.

With only two people, it took seven or eight hours to finish the front side of all 135 shirts.

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We started with the pink shirts.

My cousin Zeke took a detour into the city on his way up the Appalachian Trail, and he offered to help us print the backs. With his help, we finished them in four hours.

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And he bought us food!

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The print shop’s mustachioed Pratt Cat, who is most often found sleeping in the paper guillotine’s scrap bin, visited us in the silkscreen lab.

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About half of the finished shirts.

Matthew and Kalan will start distributing them to subway performers this week. Remember: Music is Legal!

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7/25: Arrest: how the decision is made

Summary:

If you are approached by police while performing in accordance with MTA rules, you have the right to continue your work. It is highly recommended to film the encounter, to display the MTA rules (we’ll mail you a copy free), and to state the officer’s badge number out loud.

If you are arrested for doing so, you have not committed a crime, and you have the right to a wrongful arrest lawsuit. See “Who To Call” for more information on doing so.

So, the big news from today is that I was arrested for a third time. Here’s how it happened:

I arrived at 68th St at 12:10 PM, unpacked, stood up with the instrument, and saw a police officer on the other platform as I did so. He shined his flashlight at me and shouted: “Not today!”

Well, it just so happens that I believe that music’s legal. So I hollered back: “Yes! Today!” Then I launched “Gigue” from the third Bach partita, and the officer set off for the stairs to reach my platform.

By the time he reached me, I had my instrument in its case to avoid damage. He told me to leave, I asked why, and this is what we established as the situation:

I then said that I was clear on the rules [“The following nontransit uses are permitted by the Authority, provided they do not impede transit activities and they are conducted in accordance with these rules: public speaking; campaigning; leafletting or distribution of written noncommercial materials; activities intended to encourage and facilitate voter registration; artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations; solicitation for religious or political causes; solicitation for charities.”], and that I would continue to perform until given a summons or being arrested.

Officer Kennedy — who had given me his name and badge number on request — said he would “call a unit” to arrest me, and that in the meantime, I could speak with the station manager. I went up, called Milo to say I’d be arrested soon, and talked to the station manager. This is what I found out:

I went back downstairs to meet my fate, and shortly afterward, two more officers arrived, one in a blue shirt and one white-shirt. They conferred with Officer Kennedy, then left without talking to me. After that, I waited for a possible arrest on my platform, and Officer Kennedy waited across the tracks without saying a word. I felt about like this:

After a long period of waiting, I wanted to work or be arrested, not sit around and be scared of some pseudo-legal threat. So, I got out the violin again. Officer Kennedy waved his arms, disappeared upstairs, and came back down a minute later with a new story, this time about a non-existent permit:

Since he was back in my face, I asked what options there were at that point. He still wanted me to leave “voluntarily”, which is how the NYPD says “through intimidation and without any legal justification.” I wasn’t having it and asked again if he would proceed to arrest:

Now, I’m not sure what was said in his initial meeting with his superiors, but I think he had cold feet at this point. In any case, he called for backup a second time, and I got to talk to Officer Bastien, who asked why it was legal to play:

Strangely, his curiosity about the law seemed to evaporate when he had the chance to have a copy of the rules in his hands. He changed to a new tactic, telling me that the rules could be “overruled” in the case of a safety problem.

Here’s the second part of his explanation of why police officers can decide the law:

I understand what he was saying, but what I didn’t see was the safety problem on that platform, which I repeatedly pointed out was quite empty. He finally said that he couldn’t explain the problem since he wasn’t there when I was asked to leave, and I asked if Officer Kennedy could explain it to me again:

Check out that long pause when he’s asked if Officer Kennedy can identify a safety concern. The reason he comes up with: “He asked you to stop playing and you would not stop.” So essentially, I was performing, there was no safety concern — but when I was then asked to leave the station and refused despite intimidation, THEN there was a safety concern.

And THIS reasoning, ladies and gentlemen, justified my arrest. Just after this video, Officer Bastien walked over to his superior, Sgt. Robson. There was a ten-second conversation, then Sgt. Robson approached me, ordered me to put my hands behind my back, and had me step against the wall.

16/07: Civilian Complaint Review Board

The original idea for the site was to make legal information about busking accessible online. But, it didn’t take long to see that a jumble of miscellaneous ideas about arrests, complaints, rules, and so forth wouldn’t attract very much traffic, and would consequently be difficult to find through Google, negating the original purpose.

Hence the blog idea — and indeed, I’ve been having a lot of fun sharing stories from underground. (There are so many!) But, it’s time to keep working on the legal aspect, especially now that we have a bit of an audience. We’ll also soon be adding a list of legal posts on the sidebar, so these notes are easily findable for newcomers.

So here’s an important update. Yesterday, I went to the Civilian Complaint Review Board at 40 Rector St., to do an interview in follow-up to a complaint I had filed after my arrest on June 18th.

It’s easy to file a complaint, by the way. Go to this link, and fill out the form or call. You’ll see below why that might be important.

I had actually filed two complaints after the arrest. The first was for wrongful arrest. Essentially, went my complaint, it’s legal to perform, but I was nonetheless arrested for it.

The second was about what the CCRB calls “Abuse of Authority.” When I went back to the Transit District 1 Stationhouse after I was released from Midtown Criminal Court on the 19th, I asked to file a complaint about the arrest. I was told not only that I could not file a complaint there, but in fact that there was no complaint form at all! (As you can see on the CCRB page, that information is not only false, but stationhouses are in fact mandated to accept complaints in person). That conversation ended at that point, because I was threatened with arrest if I didn’t leave the stationhouse.

The CCRB has two ways to pursue complaints. One is to schedule a “Mediation” meeting with the officer in question, and the other is to investigate. However, only certain complaints are in CCRB jurisdiction; the others are referred to other offices like Internal Affairs and the Office of the Chief of Department. (This is, at least, what I was told. I was not the only complainant in the office to experience bureaucracy-induced disorientation!)

When I met with the investigator assigned to my complaint, she immediately knew that the wrongful arrest complaint couldn’t be pursued by the CCRB, because it falls outside their jurisdiction. More on that later.

We did however decide that the abuse of authority complaint could be pursued within the CCRB. So, we did a tape-recorded interview about what happened, and then investigator then asked if I wanted the complaint to go to mediation or to investigation. The process of investigation is outlined in this article by a former investigator that I read last year. The gist of it (as I hazily recall — would that I had more time for this post before getting out the door) is that CCRB investigators make a valiant attempt to substantiate charges, but because they ultimately have no power to impose sanctions, the process is more or less moot.

Point being, I opted for mediation, because it will hopefully lead to a face-to-face meeting with the sergeant who told me I had no way to complain. I have a lot of thinking to do about how to handle that, but my hope is that it could be productive.

And if not, the complaint can always proceed to investigation following the mediation meeting. So, while the CCRB may be unable to impose any kind of sanction, this process still feels tentatively promising with regards to Abuse of Authority.

Now, back to the question of wrongful arrest. My investigator does not make decisions on referrals, and she was not initially able to provide many details on where the complaint could go. (Strange, right? Can I be the only person in NYC to file a complaint over wrongful arrest? Somehow I doubt it).

However, I really worked to advocate for myself and for other buskers who experience harassment. I told her on the record that arrest, harassment, and ignorance of the rules are all widespread problems, as per what I’ve heard in the grassroots, and that I’d like to be heard on that topic, not just about my own arrest. Further, I told her that the NYPD might well be interested in seeking a solution, i.e. reducing the amount of harassment, if the issue is brought to their attention through the right channels.

The end result is ambiguous: my complaint will be reviewed and referred, hopefully within the next two months. The theory I fleshed out with the investigator is that my personal wrongful arrest claim will go to the bureau responsible for those complaints, I believe the Office of the Chief of Department, and that follow-up on performers’ rights may, fingers crossed, be brought to the notice of Internal Affairs for a meeting.

So, touch wood on that one. I do hope this post outlines many reasons why the CCRB can help us with self-advocacy, and would love to hear from performers who have had experiences with CCRB in the past. And, I’ll keep the updates coming about all of these threads — especially the possibility of Internal Affairs!

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!