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After questionable arrest, subway performers demand officers learn transit rules

Sounds of protest songs and beatboxing filled the Metropolitan Avenue G subway station Tuesday afternoon as subway performers rallied against the recent arrest of Andrew Kalleen.

Kalleen, 30, was playing in the same station on Saturday when an officer told he could not perform without a permit, and told him to leave the station. Kalleen, who was playing an acoustic guitar, told the officer he had a right to perform under the MTA Rules of Conduct section 1050.6 which permits “artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations” as long as the performer does not “impede transit activities.”

The police officer forcibly removed the guitar from around Kalleen’s neck, and told him to leave the station. Kalleen was eventually cuffed by multiple officers and ejected from the station, much to the chagrin of others waiting for the train. One of the bystandersshot a video of the incident, which has since been viewed more than 575,000 times on YouTube.

The rally was organized by BuskNY, an advocacy group for subway performers, and attended by numerous performers, as well as representatives from New Yorkers Against Bratton, the Street Vendor project and two New York City council members.

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Kalleen, dressed in a paisley gypsy skirt and oversized sweater, was significantly more softspoken at the gathering than when he asserted his rights on Saturday.

“We were lucky that something was captured on tape,” Killeen said. “People are here because I stood up for something that we all believe in. We need to not simply obey authority because it is the authority.”

BuskNY called upon the NYPD to train officers on interacting subway performers, and said they need to know that freelance subway performance is legal.

“If this is ‘broken windows,’ then I want no part of it,” said Council Member Stephen Levin.

Kalleen, who was arrested on charges of loitering, has a court date set for Friday. Matthew Christian of BuskNY said he believes Kalleen’s charges will be thrown out, as the arrest of many subway performers before him have.

Darcey Leonard, 39, who has been producing performance art shows for the past 18 years, said the subway is “one of the best stages for artists to develop” and “invaluable to the larger artistic ecosystem.”

Leonard said she’s worked with street performers in Boston, Los Angeles, and said she’s never had any performers she’s known arrested there.

James Cohen, an associate law professor at Fordham Law School, said the video of Kalleen shows the police officer “really caused the situation by being rude and confrontational.”

He caused a potentially volatile situation by following procedures … he never should have made it get out of hand,” Cohen said.

Cohen said generally, people have a right to perform in stations as long as they are not being disorderly.

“(Police Commissioner Bill) Bratton is old school … and I don’t have any doubt in his perspective he sees street entertainers in the subway system as being disruptive,” Cohen said. The law professor said the problem of arresting subway performers, or even giving them a summons to appear in court, is that it interrupts the lives of people who have done “nothing very horrible.”

 
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