Can you legally busk in New York City's subways? Yes. Do you need a permit? No. Will these facts stop a police officer from arresting you for busking without a permit? Take a guess.
Andrew Kalleen, 30, a local musician performing in a Brooklyn subway station, was recorded last week on a cellphone camera debating with an officer about whether he's allowed to play his guitar there. He tells the cop to look up Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) Rules of Conducts and Fines Section 1050.6c. The officer reads it aloud:
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.
And yet, he says he's ejecting Kalleen from the station anyway. Kalleen starts playing music again, and the cop handcuffs him. BoingBoing notes, "See the two undercover officers appear during the arrest."
You can watch the incident here. Since Friday it's generated over 800,000 views on Youtube. Warning: There's intermittent hipster overload.
From The Huffington Post:
the arresting officer charged him with loitering, but only after poring over a law book in the back of the police van.
While state law prohibits people from loitering in the subway "for the purpose of soliciting or engaging in business," that law seems to contradict the MTA rule, which allows performing for money.
Matthew Christian, a street violinist who co-founded BUSK-NY, a group that advocates for street performers, said the police often charge performers with vague offenses like loitering when they can't find a more convincing justification for arrest.
"This happens so often," Christian said. "When police officers don't precisely know the law, they arrest someone over their own refusal to back down, and once the person is brought to the police station and booked, they can't find anything else to charge them with, so they go mining."
This story has a happy ending, though. Yesterday, following a review of the above video by the New York Police Department, "the arrest [was] voided," according to CBS. Other local musicians planned a protest, but it's not clear what impact that might have had.
In other MTA news, the authority is considering raising fares 15 percent to fill its $15 billion budget gap.