More and more, bystanders recording NYPD – including arrest of subway musician

Andrew Kalleen recently was arrested in a New York subway for performing without a permit, which 'buskers' and their supporters say is not required. They see such incidents as examples of increasing police harassment.

Frank Franklin II/AP
Andrew Kalleen joins other performers during a protest in a subway station in New York. Mr. Kalleen was arrested when an officer told him he needed a permit. The New York Police Department says it's looking into the arrest.

More and more, when New York City police make an arrest in public, bystanders pull out their smart phones and begin recording.

In the latest video sparking controversy over the NYPD’s aggressive approach to minor crimes, uniformed and plainclothes cops are shown arresting a guitar-strumming subway “busker” – or public entertainer who solicits donations – after he refused an order last weekend to stop playing and leave the station.

The video, which has been seen by more than 1 million viewers on YouTube, shows Andrew Kalleen, a busker who had been singing Neil Young’s protest anthem “Ohio,” argue with an officer who had told him to pack it up, saying he was not allowed to perform on subway platforms without a permit.

Mr. Kalleen, however, pulled out a copy of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s rules of conduct and directed him to read Section 1050.6(c). The officer told Kalleen he was not going to argue with him, but, nevertheless, he read the section aloud, which allows for “artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations,” as long as they do not impede transit activities.

Bystanders erupted in cheers, and even jeers, but the officer called for backup, and at least five cops then roughly arrested the fedora-wearing musician. As he was taken away, bystanders continued to hurl expletives at the police. Kalleen was later charged with loitering and released, the NYPD told the Associated Press, adding the department was reviewing the incident.

On Tuesday, Kalleen and a group of about 100 protesters, including musicians and public officials, staged a rally at the same station, protesting what they call increasing police harassment as the NYPD continues to crack down on subway buskers under the leadership of Commissioner William Bratton.

Since beginning his second tenure in New York, Commissioner Bratton has redirected his officers to focus more on low-level crime – a hallmark of his “broken windows” theory, which holds that strict enforcement of penny-ante crimes deters more serious activities. Through mid-October, police have arrested 293 subway buskers this year, up from 101 arrests in all of 2013, NYPD spokeswoman Sophia Mason told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

“This is part of the integrity of New York City,” said City Council Member Robert Cornegy (D), a 7-foot alum of the famous 1984-85 St. John’s University basketball team, during the rally. “People come here from all over with the expectation that they are going to get an authentic New York experience, and this is part of its authenticity.”

As the video continues to go viral this week, the department is reviewing the circumstances of other controversial arrests and stops captured by bystander videos.

Earlier this month, an officer was recorded taking a roll of cash from a man during a pat-down and then pepper-spraying him after he objected and asked for his money back. The man claims it was over $1,000. And in September, another video showed an officer throwing a pregnant woman to the ground while trying to handcuff her hands behind her.

A grand jury is continuing to hear evidence in the case of Eric Garner, who suffocated to death in an apparent illegal chokehold after being arrested for selling cigarettes – an arrest dramatically captured by bystander smart phones and causing a national outcry.

“We're not asking for the laws to be changed here," said Council Member Stephen Levin (D) at the rally. “The existing law is here to protect us. If this is 'broken windows,' I want no part of it.”

Advocates from BuskNY, a group that supports subway performers, said the NYPD needs to better train officers on the rules of conduct on subways, handing out a proposed memo that officers should be aware that “no permit is required to perform in subway stations or on subway platforms" and that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority “allows all performers to accept donations,” the website Gothamist reported.  

Kalleen filed a formal complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board on Wednesday.

“The world watches New York,” he said at the rally. “This is not the message we want to send to the world.”

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