NYC Subway Performers Complain of Being Over-Policed

NEW YORK (AP) -

Subway acrobats, dancers and musicians on Tuesday decried what they said was heavy-handed policing, gathering outside City Hall to join critics of a police clampdown on minor offenses.

One activist suggested a temporary halt to subway performer arrests, which have spiked this year as officers zeroed in on minor crimes to set a tone of not tolerating lawlessness. But several performers said they just hope to arrange a way to perform without fearing arrest.

“We dance. We sing. We’re not criminals. … We shouldn’t really get locked up for showing our talent,” said Zenon “Tito” Laguerre, a 34-year-old subway acrobat who said he was arrested last week.

Transit rules generally allow performing for tips in parts of subway stations, but not in trains or with amplifiers. More than 240 performers have been arrested so far this year, about four times as many as during the same period last year.

Some subway riders see the performers as part of the city’s anything-goes artistic environment. But others roll their eyes at hearing “it’s showtime!” on hectic commutes.

The rise in arrests dovetails with Police Commissioner William Bratton’s embrace of the “broken windows” theory of policing, which holds that putting up with small-time law-breaking can foster more dangerous crime. The approach has come under scrutiny since a man died last month during an arrest attempt for selling untaxed cigarettes.

“If people would obey the law, then they would not draw the attention of the police,” Bratton told WNYC on Tuesday.

Some subway performers acknowledge they’ve broken the rules but say police should focus on crime.

“This is New York City culture,” says Andrew “Goofy” Saunders, a 20-year-old acrobat who has stopped performing on trains amid the crackdown. “It shouldn’t be pushed away. It should be embraced.”