A busker on the New York Subway was filmed being forcefully arrested by a police officer last week, despite the fact that public performance in the space is entirely legal. The man raised the ire of the cop when he stood up for his rights and refused to stop playing. The resulting video has gone viral, prompting follow up protests.
The busker, 30 year old Andrew Kalleen, was performing at the Lorimer Street-Metropolitan Avenue G-train stop in Williamsburg, a popular Brooklyn hangout. The video begins as the police officer falsely states that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority rules require performers to have a permit.
In reality, the MTA does not issue permits. Kalleen hands the officer a digital copy of the MTA rules, which state that busking is allowed on the subway as long as it does not hamper transit activity.
The exact wording of the rules is as follows:
“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.”
The cop reads the rules aloud, verifying that busking is permitted, and prompting applause from onlookers, but then tells Kalleen “I’m not going to argue with you,” as he stands up for his rights. “I’m asking you to move on,” the cop states “I’m saying no,” Kalleen replies, prompting the officer to threaten him with arrest.
“Get your stuff. You’re leaving…BY FORCE, or you can go out on your own.” the officer tells Kalleen. When he refuses, the cop calls for back up.
Kalleen then begins to play Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here,’ as onlookers put money into his guitar case. This prompts the cop to physically stop Kalleen from strumming the guitar, and remove it from him. But he continues to sing, and picks up the guitar once again.
“I’m being oppressed” Kalleen states, as the cop once again attempts to physically remove him from the station.
As Kalleen again cites the MTA rules, the cop shows that he has misunderstood what he read, claiming “it said [busking] is prohibited.”
“There are crack dealers in New York City, and you’re arresting this man for playing guitar!” an onlooker shouts, adding “You don’t have anything better to so there are people breaking laws in the city!”
As Kalleen begins to play Neil Young’s protest anthem ‘Ohio’, the cop again grabs the guitar, slamming it into his face, then cuffs him and hauls him away, prompting onlookers to boo and chant “f*ck the police”.
Kalleen was charged with loitering and spent a night in a police holding cell. However, the arrest was quickly voided when the video went viral. The NYPD issued a statement indicating that the officer involved will not face disciplinary measures, but will be retrained.
Speaking with CBS News, Kalleen said “This time, I decided that I was just going to stand up for my rights and say no… These incidents continue to happen on a daily basis, and we are taught to obey the authorities, so people do. And they leave their spots, and it’s not legal.”
A local buskers group set about a protest against police harassment of buskers. “For some reason, that’s perceived as progress within the Police Department, where as for much of New York, it’s perceived as a crackdown on things that MTA riders really love,” said Matthew Christian of BuskNY, adding that he believes cops are being ordered to “provoke these incidents.”
Unfortunately this problem is not confined to New York City. Rights group The Rutherford Institute is fighting a ban on busking in Washington DC, seeking a ruling from a Federal Judge that the ban is unconstitutional. The group is adamant that performing in public is a time-honored activity that courts have consistently found to be fully protected by the constitutional guarantee to freedom of speech.
Steve Watson is a London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’ Infowars.com, and Prisonplanet.com. He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham, and a Bachelor Of Arts Degree in Literature and Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University.