“They don’t want us making money out here,” commented Bronx rapper Andre Johnson (pictured center), who claims the department has arrested him 30 times.
“We’re having fun out here,” he added. “We’re doing something we’re allowed to do. I guess they had their dreams that they didn’t fulfill. Now we have our dreams, and they want to shut us down.”
The artists say they follow rules the NYPD lays down, including standing next to their tables to sell their CDs. The NYPD claims, though, that they often shove CDs at passersby and even follow them down the street, with some vendors allegedly ribbing pedestrians. Consequently, the rappers often receive disorderly conduct and aggressive begging charges after being arrested.
Still, the MCs maintain the arrests have no basis.
“They never have a witness statement. They never put you in a photo array,” said Jackson. “I respect the law, but I don’t respect you trying to make your own law. You’re not a cop anymore. You’re a vigilante.”
Artists claim they sometimes plead guilty to violations to leave jail sooner, but Jackson decided to fight his charges in 2012, arguing that the officers never arrest other street performers.
“I want it to stop,” he said. “They never arrest the spray-paint guys. They never arrest the guys who draw pictures of people. That’s considered art? My music should be considered art too.”
The artists filed their suits in 2013, which are now being consolidated under one judge.
“It’s not cool how they treat us,” added rapper Naquan Miles (pictured far right).
“They’re Black urban males — people are trained to be afraid of them,” said Reggie Williams, an Ohio native who recently purchased a CD from the artists with his daughter. “But they’re not going to do anything to you. They’re just trying to get heard. I think it’s great. This is what New York is all about.”
Former city lawyer Katie Smith is representing the men in court and is supporting their rights to distribute their music, “You don’t need to like their music or the way they distribute it to respect their constitutional rights,” she said.