New York City

Paging Kevin Bacon: New York City Arresting Subway Dancers

|

Entertainment or opportunity to practice some truly vicious side-eyeing.
Dan Nguyen @ New York City / photo on flickr

New York City Police are cracking down on those guys bouncing around in the subway to loud music in the hopes of earning some spare change. Guess they had find something to do now that they can't go around slapping Big Gulps out of people's hands. From the Associated Press:

Police Commissioner William Bratton acknowledges he is targeting subway acrobats as part of his embrace of the "broken windows" theory of policing — that low-grade lawlessness can cultivate a greater sense of disorder and embolden more dangerous offenders.

"Is it a significant crime? Certainly not," Bratton said recently. But the question is, he added, "Does it have the potential both for creating a level of fear as well as a level of risk that you want to deal with?"

Ah yes, the "broken windows" theory of policing, which also happens to celebrate the pursuit of the easy, low-hanging fruit by officers, but I'm sure that's just a coincidence. The problem with using the "broken windows" theory here is when you apply it to a law whose existence serves to attempt to stamp out behavior that some people don't like, not because of behavior that actually victimizes others. The Baptists believed dancing led to sex, not assault and battery. "Potential" for fear or risk is not actual crime. What the crackdown ultimately ends up highlighting is that everything in New York City is illegal, therefore the "broken windows" argument is problematic anyway (and let's not forget that the New York Police Department has had its own "broken windows" problems with constantly violating constitutional law with its stop-and-frisk pursuits). Business Insider notes that this new round of arrests also coincides with a spike in arrests for panhandling and street peddling.

This is not to say that people should be thrilled to have their daily commutes constantly interrupted by some guy doing somersaults, but it's not the role of the law to save us from inconvenience and petty annoyances. If a dancer does inadvertently hurt someone, then that certainly may call for legal remedies. But the police action here, like hauling in panhandlers, is an example of using the law to punish behavior people simply don't want to be exposed to.

And now, an example of subway dancing awesomeness:

NEXT: Mass. Law Enforcement Corporations Not At All What Privatizing Police Would Be Like

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Can I unsee that? Please?

    1. I need to turn in my libertarian ID card. That guy in the tutu shouldn’t be arrested. He should be thrown under a train.

    2. That kind of thing is one of the few things I miss about living in San Francisco. Now I have 20 acres and have a four hundred foot high backstop 100 feet from my door and the closest neighbor is 1200 feet away. A better deal, but I do miss that kind of crazy.

  2. I pity the peasants that have to use public transportation.

    1. Yeah, it sucks not having to pay for a car and get harassed by cops all the time. Woe is me.

      1. I’ve been harassed by the cops more often on the train than in my car, especially after you adjust for mileage, and oubly so if we’re restricting it to the NYPD.

        1. I’ve never been harassed by cops on a train in my life – what the hell were you doing?

          1. In order: being 19, brown bagging a 40 (the cops straight up yanked me and my buddies off the train for that; seemed like a training initiative), and being located somewhere in between the door and the bum he wanted to harass.

            1. Well, I’ve done all of that without incident. Guess I was lucky.

              In fact, I see cops on the train maybe once a month and I’ve never seen them interact with anyone. They just stand there and get on and off at random stations.

  3. I don’t know which is worse, the New York City police or the attention-seeking freaks who have the run of the place.

    1. Both.

    2. Bullshit. The attention-seeking freaks aren’t hurting anyone.

    3. I have a hard time getting upset over attention-seeking freaks who don’t initiate force or fraud against anyone else.

      1. A steady diet of such crap gets annoying after a while. Can we never have a minute’s relative peace and quiet? Are we forever doomed to be spectators at failed actors’ amateur hour whenever we’re in a public space?

        1. Besides that fact, while I have not been approached by these guys in a NYC train, I have dealt with them in various street malls across the US.

          Saying they are not “Initiating Force” gets pretty grey when you deal with these self-entitled buskers.

          When one of these guys comes to you and tells you to move so he can begin his pan-handling, tell him no and see how things go. Or walk through their dance area and see what happens. I guarantee you that a good percentage of the time, you will get threats of violence made your way.

          (Note: in some localities, special accommodations have been made for buskers, giving them an area to perform. This seems to me to be the right way of handling things. It ensures fair access to everyone.)

        2. You could go somewhere else. In my experience, most of NYC is not like that.

          You might also consider the fact that many people like it or don’t care.

        3. Annoying after a while < habitual rape, theft and murder without consequence. Your perspective may need some work.

          1. That’s a mighty low bar you set right there.Just because something is not rape, theft, or murder doesn’t mean I have to like it.

            1. I don’t know which is worse, the New York City police or the attention-seeking freaks…

              I’m not the one who set the bar.

        4. Are we forever doomed to be spectators at failed actors’ amateur hour whenever we’re in a public space?

          Hell is other people, my friend. A public space is always going to be full of people you don’t want to hear or see.

          1. While I tend to agree with you, Nikki, this isn’t as simple as “shut up and tolerate it”.

            Should a dancer in a space intended for public transportation be allowed to take up 30% of the train? If not then how do we resolve that difference when the person comes into the train and calls for everyone to move out of the way? If you say “no thank you” and they start shouting at you until you move, have they crossed a line yet? What if they start making threats- what is the resolution from there?

            1. I didn’t tell anyone to shut up and tolerate it. It’s impossible for people to share a public space and all be satisfied with what is going on in it. That’s all.

              1. Yeah, the people in the photo look very satisfied with the asshole monopolizing the car to show off. They are not at all concerned he’s going to fall doing a handstand on a moving train.

            2. Allowed by who?

              The other passengers? Why not?

              Now, if the Authoritays start enforcing that, we can talk, otherwise, suck it up and give your fellow citizens all the respect and deference that you think you are due. And maybe a little extra, just to be sure.

              1. Who deserves respect, the passengers who want a quiet ride or the wannabee traveling circus troupe?

                1. All your fellow citizens do, Homple.

                  Right up until they violate your rights.

                  And you have no right not to be offended or annoyed.

          2. I have lived in NYC for almost 20 years now. I take the subway every single work day – and I have seen this particular activity maybe five times. I don’t care for it, or panhandling in general, but I have never been personally bothered by it. These arrests are a solution in search of a problem.

            1. What train are you taking? I believe it’s more common on some lines than others, but there are months where I’ll see this all the time on the Q train. Sometimes 2 groups hitting a train car one after the other.

              Not that I mind all that much. They’re guys willing to train and perform for money, rather than just panhandling or telling some lie for sympathy. I am tempted to try Overt’s suggestion above and refuse to move one day, though. Wonder how that would go…

              1. Was mostly the N, now the R. In fact, I am pretty sure I only see it on trains I hardly ever take.

          3. Some public spaces are worse than others.

            1. Some public spaces are NYC is worse than others.

              FTFY

  4. Willingness to live in NYC is prima facie evidence of insanity.

    1. But aside from “dodging the hail of bullets” every time an LAPD police cruiser passes by makes Los Angeles relative paradise. I’m on to you, Hugh.

  5. I don’t think this warrants a police crack down, but if one of these dancing assholes kicked their feet up in my face could I punch him? Kinda hard to find the good guys here.

    1. They don’t. Sometimes you wonder how they don’t. But, I’ve never seen it happen.

      1. I’d rather not spend time wondering whether some balletist manqu? is going to kick me in the face or not.

  6. So, basically, they’re taking away one of the more harmless, and sometimes even entertaining, portions of my commute. Thanks, guys. Not only are these guys not harming anyone, they’re a veritable positive externality.

    Wait, maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Given the idiot mayor and idiot city council, after banning the subway dancers, they’ll have city-paid subway dancers. The only difference will be that the bureaucrat dancers will be union and their work rules will forbid any dance moves that might carry some level of physical risk and they’ll be entitled to a 15 minute break between 5-minute performances. In other words, they’ll suck.

    1. Their dancing will be interpretive dancing to teach goodthink to the unwashed masses.

    2. “Harmless” and “entertaining”? Maybe they’re entertaining the first time, if you haven’t seen them before. After that, every time is exactly the same: a bunch of guys doing half-assed tricks to music being played over a cheap boombox so loud it’s distorting into static.

      This is a little more than an “inconvenience” and a “petty annoyance”: this not just somebody being rude to you at the grocery store or whatever, it’s a bunch of guys coming into a train car at rush hour and demanding everyone move out of the way so that they can swing their feet inches from your nose.

      1. Not that I approve of the crackdown, but there has to be a better answer to this. Doing tricks on a narrow train packed with people is unsafe.

        If this were a private business and they allowed this shit to happen, that business would likely get sued on their first person kicked, and they would soon go out of business. Flip it around- if the city had sanctioned some private dance company to take over half of a busy subway car, for some money-making performance, we’d be talking about how some crony was getting a free stage at tax-payer expense.

        At the end of the day, the ideal world would be for this to be a private enterprise and for us to be arguing about how genius or stupid their business model is. But it’s a public transportation system, so our fallback should be to as narrowly tailor their scope as possible. To me, that means the safe and efficient transport of people. I’m sorry, but the buskers need to go somewhere else.

        1. This is exactly correct. Shackford is wrong, as usual.

          1. Shackford is talking about reality, not libertopia. The police have much better things they could be spending their time on.

            This is not to say that people should be thrilled to have their daily commutes constantly interrupted by some guy doing somersaults, but it’s not the role of the law to save us from inconvenience and petty annoyances. If a dancer does inadvertently hurt someone, then that certainly may call for legal remedies. But the police action here, like hauling in panhandlers, is an example of using the law to punish behavior people simply don’t want to be exposed to.

            Shackford is right, and some of the commenters seem to be putting their personal preferences above their principles.

            1. But, Brandon, they’re annnnnoooooooyyyyyyiiiinnnnngggg!!! And they play that awful rap stuff.

            2. If a dancer does inadvertently hurt someone, then that certainly may call for legal remedies.

              I disagree. Again, let’s look at what would happen if this were a private business. You know that if a private business tolerated this unsafe activity, they would be named in a lawsuit as well as the dancer- if that dancer could be found after kicking you in the face and taking off.

              From a libertarian perspective, if we MUST have public services, then at the least we should run them like a business. And ensuring the safety of public transit- to me- is a core duty of that business.

              That said, I agree that arrest is over reaching. Though I don’t see in the sources actual mention of arrest, as opposed to other “Crack down” activities like citation.

            3. The police have much better things they could be spending their time on.

              Actually they don’t. Soliciting money on the subway is illegal in NYC. It’s better they enforce an actual law than, say, inspecting bags before entering the turnstile.

        2. I fail to see how buskers interfere with the safe and efficient transport of people.

          “Safe” and “efficient” transport can happen in a noisy, annoying, crowded environment, you know.

          Really, the whining about this is sounding an awful lot like “I have the right not to be annoyed when I am in public.” Welcome to progtopia!

          1. If you’re calling these guys “buskers”, that’s pretty good evidence you have no personal experience with them. This isn’t a guy or two strolling through singing folk songs, this is a bunch of guys coming onto the train, demanding people move out of the way, and then taking over most of the car so they can swing their feet right in front of your nose.

            It isn’t about “I have the right not to be annoyed”, it’s about “they don’t have the right to take over public transportation and use it as their personal stage at other people’s expense.”

          2. I fail to see how buskers interfere with the safe and efficient transport of people.

            Doing flips and spins on a moving train is not safe. It is not safe for the people doing it, and it is not safe for the other people in the train.

            This is not about being “annoyed”. Frankly, I like street performers. I also like football- in a stadium, not in the middle of a crowded train.

          3. I, for one, am not asserting a right not to be annoyed, I’m only declaring that I AM annoyed, which is another thing entirely.

          4. JD, I was using Overt’s “busker” terminology in response to his comment.

            I know what a busker is.

            1. It is not safe for the people doing it,

              That’s their business.

              and it is not safe for the other people in the train.

              Reports of injuries?

              This is not about being “annoyed”.

              Sure looks like it to me.

              If you’re saying “Damn, this is annoying, but waddayagonnado?”, that’s cool.

              If you’re saying “Damn, this is annoying. Why don’t jackbooted goons make it stop?”, that’s something else.

              1. Reports of injuries?

                We should wait to close the barn door until after the horse escapes.

                If the MTA wants it stopped, they should be allowed to have it stopped. If the MTA doesn’t mind it, then the disgruntled customers can go whine elsewhere.

                But the MTA wants it stopped. The disgruntled dancers can go whine elsewhere.

      2. On what line are these guys o the train during rush hour? I’ve taken the subway pretty much daily for the last 13 years and have NEVER seen them on the train at rush hour. It must be on some line I don’t know about. And a boombox?

    3. Alas, it’s not your commute, in the sense of your private property.

      1. I guess. Some of you commenters, on the other hand, seem to think it’s the property of the state.

        1. It’s a murky puddle, this libertarian stuff.

        2. So who does own the NYC transit system and what may they do to regulate the behavior of those who use it?

  7. Bill Bratton is a fucking asshole.

  8. And they would have gotten away with it, too, if the Warriors hadn’t shot Cyrus.

    1. Can you dig it?

  9. New York City was Heather Mizeur’s model for the way Maryland should be governed. That was evidently too much even for Maryland Democrats.

  10. Why the fuck aren’t the “2 million visitors a year” paying for this instead of taxpayers?

    In 2015, a U.S. Geological Survey researcher will lead a team from Virginia Tech and North Carolina State University to create the most comprehensive data set about trail and campsite conditions in the Appalachian National Scenic Trail’s more than 90-year history.
    Jeff Marion, adjunct professor of natural resource recreation in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment and a recreation ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, has received a $300,000 grant from the National Park Service to characterize visitor impacts on vegetation and soils, develop sustainability guidance to minimize impacts, provide workshops on trail design for maintenance staff and volunteers, and provide education materials about Leave No Trace practices and outdoor ethics for schools, youth groups, and trail users.

    It would take a measly 15 fucking cents per visitor, yet they shift the burden to the taxpayers.

    To. The. Bone.

    1. I hiked a weekend on the AT about a month ago. I’d be willing to pay a bit to use it, particularly the shelters. I would not be willing to pay for this study, and it certainly should not be taxpayer funded.

      I have contributed to the Green Mountain Club, who do a section of the AT in Vermont.

      1. Does “hiking the Appalachian Trail” still mean “flying down to Rio to see my mistress”?

    2. Most National Parks do charge admission. So there’s that.

      1. Some charge, many don’t. EIther way, the vast majority of the trai is NOT is a National Park.

    3. How do you charge them? Its not like there’s one access point; there are tens, hundreds of thousands.

      Do you want cops roaming the AT checking people’s papers?

      1. Not sure.

        But don’t fucking charge me, which is exactly what they’re doing by using taxpayer funds.

      2. The point is that those who use it should be the ones being charged for its maintenance, not those who don’t use it.

        1. Sure, sure.

          The only way to do that, though, is to have packs of cops roaming the AT asking people to show their papers.

          You cool with that?

  11. about Leave No Trace practices

    What do we want: STASIS!

    When do want it: FOREVER!

    1. Leave No Trace is a common sense practice on nature trails.

  12. What happens the next time there’s a flash mob – do they send in the SWAT van?

  13. it’s NYC. Isn’t a certain amount of, shall we say, unusual behavior the norm?

    1. Yes, but I don’t think that’s what people are complaining about.

  14. “Does it have the potential both for creating a level of fear as well as a level of risk that you want to deal with?”

    Well, I suppose it *must* have. OTOH, does it have the potential both for creating a level of pleasure as well as a level of wisdom that you want to deal with?

  15. How the hell can New York claim to be gay friendly when they are arresting people for breaking out into song and dance in the public? What is next, banning Judy Garland records?

  16. I don’t care about dancing, but I am fine with bans on playing music on a train. I can ignore a dancer, but their right to play music ends at my ears.

    1. I, um, hear you.

      What do you think about people who listen “privately” to earbud-music so loud everyone within a fifty-foot radius can hear it as well?

      1. What do you think about people who listen “privately” to earbud-music so loud everyone within a fifty-foot radius can hear it as well?

        At least it (usually) isn’t a boombox. Soooo glad that trend ended.

  17. This, like swat team raids for minor offenses, is a direct result of the decrease in crime. They have to find something to do to justify their existence.

    If cops really want to do something valueable on the subway, they could make people take off their giant back-packs so they don’t knock people over every time they turn around. This back-packs cause more trouble and fights than all other reasons combined (alcohol excepted).

    1. This back-packs cause more trouble and fights than all other reasons combined (alcohol excepted)

      I believe that assholes blocking the exits causes the most trouble. I’ve elbowed a few of the fuckers myself and I am normally not a violent person at all.

      1. “I believe that assholes blocking the exits causes the most trouble. I’ve elbowed a few of the fuckers myself and I am normally not a violent person at all.”

        I stand corrected. I sometimes plow right through them (depending on how big they are :))

        1. I talk in a real cornpone accent and they get out of my way because they assume I am armed.

          1. Haha nice. I might borrow that technique.

  18. You know, the kind of libertarianism that makes no sense to me is the kind that leads to: 1) Ugh, I guess we need a subway system, paid for by everybody, 2) but it would be fascist to say that it can only be used for transporting people back and forth in relative peace and pleasantness, 3) so we have to allow people to do the electric boogaloo on it, 4) so people stop riding the subway, 5) so we need a new advertising campaign to get people to ride the subway more, paid for by everybody!

    If we have a public utility, we need it to be kept in accord with its usefulness and not allowed to deteriorate to the point it loses riders out of fear. Not that hard.

    1. Right. I wish we didn’t have to subsidize a public utility like trains. But if we are going to have those sorts of businesses run by the State, then I would like it if they would at least focus on providing the specific service that we chartered them for.

      If we chartered a subway system to get people to and from locations, then it is beyond the scope of that system to be a stage, museum, zoo or hangout. I see no problem with ensuring that the equipment of that publicly owned business is restricted specifically to the use of the charter. Sure, there will be some grey area, and I’m all for erring on the side of public accomodation in those cases (yeah, people can talk loudly, sing, listen to loudish music), but when it starts interfering with the core charter of the business- as pushing people to one end of the train while you recklessly amble about in something you call a dance- then I have no problem with the people running that business to tell you to fuck off.

    2. Well, Mike, the alternative is

      1) Ugh, I guess we need a subway system, paid for by everybody,

      2) and we’ll need to be total jackbooted goons applying arbitrary standards to people we don’t the looks of, so we can to say that it can only be used for transporting people back and forth in relative peace and pleasantness,

      I find it bizarre that the comments on a libertarian board are running strongly in favor of more cops and more enforcement to stop an activity that doesn’t violate anybody’s rights.

      Tell me, please, how are these annoying assholes violating your rights?

      1. I like how you jumped from total anarchy to jackbooted thuggery with no awareness that society has ever managed to communicate notions of proper public decorum without gassing anybody.

        Excuse me, I have to go jack off in a stranger’s hair on the subway now because fascism.

      2. “violating my rights” is not the one and only standard of acceptable behavior, you know. I would say that interfering with other people’s peaceful use of the subway system is a pretty good reason for some authority figure to step in, although I do think that making it a criminal matter is going a bit far. Basically, the MTA, which owns the subways whether we think they should exist or not, has said, “You can use the system, but you can’t interfere with other people’s peaceable use of the system”, and the police are enforcing that. Arguing “but whose rights are they violating” is kind of the philosophical version of “Does this bug you? I’m not touching you!”

      3. I find it bizarre that the comments on a libertarian board are running strongly in favor of more cops and more enforcement to stop an activity that doesn’t violate anybody’s rights.

        WTF? It’s the MTA’s property and they should be allowed to have their property rights enforced.

  19. Because no-one has done it yet, I leave you all with the greatness which is Bill Cosby.

  20. Sweet Lucy was a dancer

  21. I’ve been dealing with subway dancers since the 1980s.

    I will pass on offering an opinion regarding their persecution by law enforcement.

    I will say – i’ve gotten in fistfights with groups of them at least twice since 1997. Most of them aren’t out there to start shit, but some are.

    There is a longstanding culture of teenage subway hustling in NYC, predominated by the famous, “you want to buy some candy to support my basketball team?” kids.

    Most of the kids who do this don’t look like aspiring point guards. Many are severely overweight. You ask them their “team” name and you’ll get told to go fuck yourself.

    They get the boxes of candy for free/steal them from otherwise actual charity fundraising programs, and basically get into the game of illicit street retail at a young age.

    You could say the breakdance kids are basically the “A-Team”/Advanced Placement version of that sort of thing. At least a) they’re in shape! and b) have some kind of actual belief that they are providing a service for a fee. Which is to be respected.

    That said, you CAN be driven half insane by the daily routine of punk kids screaming “ladies and gentlemen,etc” and then doing their ‘seen it a million times’ routine in an already crowded subway car.

    If you don’t mind being half insane, its not a problem.

    1. There is a longstanding culture of teenage subway hustling in NYC, predominated by the famous, “you want to buy some candy to support my basketball team?” kids.

      Oh yes, I see that one all the time. Those kids look, uh, a little sketchy to me.

      But thing is, I wear headphones at all times on the train – none of this stuff bothers me.

      There IS, however, some truth to the notion that some folks are turned away by stuff like panhandlers and especially graffiti. Subway ridership is at like WW2 levels now in no small part because the trains are (sort of) clean and safe. And part of the perception of “safe” is: fewer panhandlers and crazy people.

      1. The problem is that because it’s a government agency there’s really no harm to them in allowing customers to be chased away because the legislature will just funnel the money from the lost fares to them anyway. And said legislature will happily ensure that no competing service will be allowed to operate.

    2. In all my years I’ve never had a problem with beggars/hustlers. I think I must have mastered the NY “Fuck you, leave me alone” look.

      1. It’s funny, in my 20s I had the total “Tell me the entire story of your long history of screwups from which you learned nothing” face, and somewhere along the way I developed instead a “Please help the– oh, never mind, sorry sir” glower without to my mind particularly changing how I look…

      2. By far the most IN-YOUR-FACE hustlers I ever dealt with on the subway were ACORN representatives.

    3. There is a longstanding culture of teenage subway hustling in NYC, predominated by the famous, “you want to buy some candy to support my basketball team?” kids.

      What amuses me is that a lot of them have dropped the pretense; the introduction is now “I AM NOT SELLING CANDY FOR NO BASKETBALL TEAM, I AM SELLING CANDY TO MAKE SOME MONEY…”

      1. I had one scammer team do this shit in a tavern.

        Some toothless woman with a kid in tow was selling candy for the kid’s basketball team from “St. something-or-other School.”

        There was no fucking way this kid was in a private school; they bought a giant box of stuff on EBT and tried to sell above cost.

        I told them I would buy from them if they would come in next week and drop the lie about the bullshit private school. They walked out of the bar.

  22. Oh, second thought =

    The reason they’re busting subway hustlers?

    If they have to cut back on Stop-and-frisk, they’re going to need to pad their collar #s somewhere. I’d call it ‘shooting fish in a barrel’, but that is in fact far more difficult than actually busting kids on subway cars. in the law-enforcement whack-a-mole game, any criticism of one overzealous prosecution will simply redirect those energies into some other relevance-retaining activity.

  23. “This is not to say that people should be thrilled to have their daily commutes constantly interrupted by some guy doing somersaults, but it’s not the role of the law to save us from inconvenience and petty annoyances. If a dancer does inadvertently hurt someone, then that certainly may call for legal remedies. But the police action here, like hauling in panhandlers, is an example of using the law to punish behavior people simply don’t want to be exposed to.”

    Endangering others is in fact a trespass before an actual injury occurs. You can’t just store dynamite in your apartment and then argue “If a dynamite dealer does inadvertently hurt someone, then that certainly may call for legal remedies.” I have the right not to be put at risk by other people in the first place.

    Some libertarians seem not to understand what public property is all about. Public property does not mean that everyone gets to choose how they want to use it. You cannot for instance decide that you’re going to use the local highway for suntanning. It’s not just the fact that it is a incompatible use that makes it a problem. It’s also a problem because you are endangering yourself on property controlled by someone else. You put them at risk of being sued when you hurt yourself. You also endanger others who would naturally not expect your stupid behavior, or who might attempt to help you.

    If this subway were privately owned there would be no question this behavior would not be tolerated.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.