Subway musicians to police: Let us play

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Play it again: A mime and some folkies protest police harassment the best way they know how.

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 or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her at
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018: Clarity added.
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Reasonable discourse

Common Cents from Crown Heights says:
I'm surprised the officer didn't have a German accent. It should be required for all NYPD nowadays. Show me your papahs! Ihre Papiere jetzt!
Oct. 23, 2014, 2:09 pm
ty from pps says:
yoyoyoyo it's showtime!
Oct. 23, 2014, 2:32 pm
jjm from c. hill says:
regardless of what he was singing, the police had no right to arrest him. sure some of them sound like crap but still, you just cant deny a person their right to express themselves, point blank period. this guy is probably right back over there in the same spot singing again right now.
Oct. 23, 2014, 2:42 pm
jjm from c. hill says:
its just like with the "its showtime" dancers. really, what are they doing wrong? ok they're playing loud music & dancing but seriously whats the point of them getting arrested? it just goes to show you that the pigs have nothing better to do with their time. whenever you hear about crime being down, they have to create a law so they can create new criminals.
Oct. 23, 2014, 2:46 pm
jjm from c, hill says:
i hope he sues the mess outta them.
Oct. 23, 2014, 2:54 pm
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
What about the perfomers who are part of the MTA program who wait years for their turn and a permit? Then along comes the Willysburg amplified Kazoo Band and shoves them aside.

It ain't about expression and art.

I'm here to ride the train, not be forcibly "entertained".
Oct. 23, 2014, 5:58 pm
gimme from yours says:
fark buskers, I want to see some talented twerkers on my commute dawg
Oct. 23, 2014, 9:58 pm
Scott from Park Slope says:
Officer Michael Franco needs to be fired summarily. The other two officers need to be placed on administrative leave for not correcting their colleague. We are not civilians (READ: subjects) but citizens (READ: their bosses), and the police culture needs to be radically adjusted to understand that.
Oct. 24, 2014, 11:08 am
bkmanhatman from nubrucklyn says:
yeah NYPD go after the criminals not panhandler musicians and subway dancers.
Oct. 24, 2014, 12:03 pm
Charles from Bklyn says:
Don't blame the police officer, as this is more a policy issue between the mayor and the police department. Where is the mayor? If the mayor and police department want police officers to work on violent and serious crime prevention, they would make them focus their efforts in this regard. However, and apparently against better judgment and reason, police officers are given leeway to waste tax payers money and time better spent making the public safer. Frankly, the mayor and police department should be embarrassed and ashamed.
Oct. 24, 2014, 1:18 pm
Mike from Williamsburg says:
We absolutely need to blame the police officer. Scott is right--he should be fired immediately and his colleagues punished.

Yes, the mayor and the police commissioner and everyone else should be ashamed of the misplaced resources they put on this broken windows nonsense, but that doesn't include arresting people for legal acts.
Oct. 24, 2014, 3:10 pm
fuse from box says:
@ chump change, Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.

Isn't a permit was required? I had thought the MTA organized musician locations?
Oct. 26, 2014, 2:52 pm
falalala from Queens says:
Audition to perform in subway,
Oct. 26, 2014, 9:55 pm
Matt from Cobble Hill says:
@fuse - No permit is required. Read the words from the Rules of Conduct & Fines MTA page yourself :

"The following [...] are permitted by the Authority, provided they do not impede transit activities [...] artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations"
"except: when on or within: a subway car; an omnibus; or, any area not generally open to the public;"

and then it goes on with some distance requirements, 25ft from entrances, don't block the escalators and whatnot.
Nov. 12, 2014, 11:55 pm
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
He's begging. I see an open case on the ground.
Jan. 28, 2015, 5:31 pm

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