Subway performers gathered outside City Hall Monday afternoon, denouncing NYPD Commissioner William Bratton’s crackdown on their underground performances this year. Subway arts advocacy group Busk NY and ad-hoc group New Yorkers Against Bratton organized the event.
Citing section 1050.6 of the MTA’s Rules Of Conduct, which permits “artistic performances” as long as “they do not impede transit activities,” Busk NY member Matthew Christian (pictured right) said “that means that anyone can play the violin, anyone who sings, anyone who reads poetry, anyone who plays with puppets on a subway platform or on the subway mezzanine level is allowed to do that.” However, some who spoke out were arrested while performing on the platform.
“Unfortunately, this rule, which has existed since 1985, is not well-known in New York,” Christian, a violin player who has been arrested while playing, added.
As a result, many NYPD officers who arrest performers are not aware of their legality. “The reason why we’re out here today is we would like the NYPD and the MTA to respect the rules as they’re published.”
“The reason why we started dancing on the train is, we wanted only to make $10 dollars to get in to battle events,” said Andrew Saunders, a member of the We Are Family For Life-Lite (WAFFLE) feet dance crew (lite feet is a dance style created in New York City in 2007). According to Saunders, the dance’s surging popularity resulted in a burst of newcomers, resulting in increased arrests.
“A lot of people don’t know the real story behind it. The reason why there’s a lot of people being arrested for dancing on the train is ’cause the numbers of dancers increased,” Saunders continued. “It’s a whole new culture. We’ve been getting arrested and hassled, but our idea was to get off the train, just showcase our talents. I got business cards so people would give me their information, like, ‘Oh, you should do this and do that.’ I took that upon myself to actually go out there and do it.”
Because of his networking, Saunders claims his group is now working with “bigger people.” However, he has stopped performing on trains because of the crackdown and fear of arrest.
According to singer Besnkheru, while officers are pressured by superiors to make the arrests, they are actually against doing so.
“They understand that a lot of the performers, they take care of their families,” Besnkheru, who has been lead away handcuffed three times for performing, said. “They are making an honest living and bartering their talent for people’s money. Each precinct has to uphold a certain percentage of arrests.”
Besnkheru adds that the majority of straphangers enjoy the exhibitions, “For the most part, from my experience from the people that I come across in the subways, they embrace us. I think there has to be empathy among people to understand that these people are making a choice to just do something positive. I don’t think that jail is the answer for everything that you don’t have an answer for.”
“We don’t kick people; we don’t rob; we don’t do anything that’s gonna cause us to get locked up,” said Zenon Laguerre, the founder of dance crew 2 Live. “It became something positive and a way for us to express our talent and let go of stress.”
Responding to a question from a reporter about how some tired people coming home from work may not want the entertainment, Laguerre noted that “the show is about a minute and 23 seconds. So it’s short and simple. No one gets hurt. And I believe there’s other trains and cars [people can go to].”
“We ask that the mayor, who campaigned for bringing an end to the era of racial profiling, put — at the very minimum — a moratorium on arrests,” New Yorkers Against Bratton member Josmar Trujillo (pictured left of center) demanded. “And we ask that he sit down with community members, with subway performers, and craft out a strategy.”
Subway performer arrests have increased 500 percent compared to this time last year. Commissioner Bratton has focused on the arrest of performers as part of his “Broken Windows” quality-of-life polling strategy. “People have the right to have a safe, pleasant ride on those subway cars,” he recently told Pix 11.