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NYPD Crackdown Has Subway Performers Risking Jail Time

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A busker performs on New York’s MTA in 2010 (photo via clintjcl/Flickr)

Earlier this year, the New York Times reported that arrests on New York’s subways were up 300% over 2013, the result of police commissioner Bill Bratton’s zealous focus on the transit system as part of his approach to policing the city. Bratton, an appointee of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, subscribes to the “broken windows” theory, a technocratic doctrine focused on eradicating petty crime popularized by Rudolph Giuliani — with help from the CompStat software program — in the 1990s.

Now, an astonishing investigation by freelance reporter Raven Rakia has detailed the human cost of Bratton’s “fixed” windows: a growing cadre of “transit recidivists,” overwhelmingly black teens and young adult males being charged with misdemeanors for busking offenses that would previously only bring low-level summonses. The result: near-children spending nights in Central Booking, with one repeat offender reportedly serving a full 60 days in jail at Rikers Island (where a single night of incarceration costs taxpayers $460) after getting charged with a class A misdemeanor (“obstructing governmental administration in the second degree”).

Rakia then provides economic context for the situation, noting the well-known difficulties those with felonies encounter on the job market, which in some cases is what drives the turn to busking on the subway as a means to earn a living. And police presence on subways has increased, she further observes, due to a rise in fare evasion — fares are up 35% since 2007, a rate far outpacing inflation due, in part, to the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s reliance on expensive private bond financing.

Just as sidewalk stop-and-frisk was shown to unconstitutionally target blacks and Latinos, so too does Bratton’s platform policing overwhelmingly target non-whites. Here Rakia cites both the arrest records on hand and a white busker named Heidi, who tells her that “black performers are more likely to get bothered or arrested by the NYPD.”

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