Jul 07 2014

Footloose: NYPD Cracks Down on Illegal Subway Dancers

W.A.F.F.L.E Crew

Kevin Bacon would be very disappointed in the New York City Police Department and their decision to crack down on subway dancers. Police have arrested over 240 people for dancing for change in the city’s subways this year, as opposed to less than 40 arrests by this time last year.

The reasoning? “Broken windows” – no, not the economic kind, but the theory of policing that espouses that highly visible “low-grade lawlessness” can inspire hardcore criminals to be a little bit ballsier. What soon follows is a zero-tolerance policy for small, victimless crimes – usually committed by the young or poor – while major criminal activity continues in the background.

Police Commissioner William Bratton recognizes that subway dancing is not “a significant crime,” but argues that the illegal acrobatics cultivate fear and risk beyond what a typical New Yorker wants to deal with. Though technically, subway performances have been perfectly legal since 1985.

Under Section 1050.6 (c) of the New York City Transit Rules of Conduct, performers are allowed to use the subway terminals and stations, and even the subway cars – so long as they do not receive money from their audience. But the language in the code is vague, and dancers are being arrested and charged with reckless endangerment. If the dancing is on the less flashy side, the performers may get let off with a lesser charge of disorderly conduct.

The crackdown is part of a new “quality of life” campaign led by Bratton that also includes a 271% increase in subway panhandling and peddling arrests. Freshman mayor Bill de Blasio insists there’s no crackdown, despite the blatant spike in arrests at the start of his term. When questioned, however, he is sure to add that he is a firm believer in broken window policing.

In order to find dancers to arrest, plainclothes police are filing the trains. Some New Yorkers seem to be happy with the increased police presence; but others find it completely unsettling. According to advocacy group BuskNY, the increased policing has also led to a rash of wrongful arrests, including people simply waiting for rides on the platforms and a woman performing a puppet show.

Police insist it is not only a crime issue, but a safety issue – though no injuries related to the dancers have ever been reported. Dancers claim it is a violation of their first amendment rights to self expression and free speech – Bratton claims they can exercise their rights elsewhere and with a permit.

The town officials in Footloose were worried that dancing would turn into sex – not that it had the potential to convince others to commit crimes. At the end of the day, dancing is just another thing on the long list of stuff that’s illegal in New York City.

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