Subway musicians to police: Let us play

Subway musicians to police: Let us play
Milo Wissig

Gotta get down to it. Police are shutting us down. Should have been done long ago.

Subway musicians rallied on Tuesday to decry what they describe as harassment at the hands of the NYPD in the wake of the release of a video showing a cop arresting a busker who is performing completely by the book.

The remarkable video shows guitarist Andrew Kalleen strumming on the platform in the Metropolitan Avenue G station early on Saturday morning. An officer, identified by activists as Michael Franco, tells Kalleen to quit or leave the station, but Kalleen argues that playing on the platform is perfectly legal, citing Section 1050.6c of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority rule book. Incredibly, the officer reads the relevant rule out loud off of his smartphone, then insists that Kalleen leave the station anyway.

“You just read the rule that says I’m allowed to do this,” Kalleen says.

“Get your stuff and leave. You can go by force or on your own,” Franco says.

Kalleen resumes playing, to cheers from the late-night crowd, belting out Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” Franco snatches his guitar mid-song, but Kalleen finishes singing the chorus, drawing applause. Franco then argues with gathered bystanders, one of whom says that he uses the station every day and enjoys the music.

“There are crack dealers in New York City and you’re arresting this man for playing a guitar,” another straphanger says.

“First of all, it’s none of your business,” Franco responds.
The final chords come when Kalleen picks up his guitar again and begins Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s “Ohio” and Franco grabs the axe again, then cuffs Kalleen with the help of two officers freshly arrived on the scene. Police charged Kalleen with loitering.

The YouTube video has been viewed more than a million times.

Sixty buskers and supporters assembled on the mezzanine of the same station for the protest, according to an organizer. The subway performers shared stories describing mistreatment from over-aggressive and under-informed police officers.

“I have had enough experience with the NYPD to understand why [Kalleen’s arrest] happened,” said Matthew Christian, director of busker advocacy organization BuskNY. “There is a lot of ego and there is a lot of encouragement for police to confront rather than discuss.”

Another busker who attended said that everyday people should care about what happens underground because their First Amendment rights are at stake.

“I am concerned about the level of aggressiveness police are showing,” said Heidi Kole, who has been busking in the city’s subways for more than a decade. “This is not just about buskers. It is about everyone’s right to free speech and expression.”

Kole said she has received between five and 10 citations over her years as a busker. The alleged infractions included unreasonable noise to panhandling to blocking pedestrian traffic, and judged dismissed each one when she got to court, she said.

“It is like [officers] just close their eyes and pick something,” she said.

Kalleen has a Friday court date. The NYPD said it is aware of the video and that it is under internal review.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurf‌aro@c‌ngloc‌al.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her at twitt‌er.com/‌Danie‌lleFu‌rfaro.