For some, free entertainment is part of the joy of riding the subway in New York City. You might board the train and be treated to a performance by a talented guitarist or singer, for example. You may not always love being part of a captive audience expected to pay up at the end of the ride. But at least music can generally be counted on to soothe stress and raise the mood.
Some forms of subway entertainment, however, are inherently a bit more jarring.
Take subway acrobatics and breakdancing. Not everyone is amused when performers start flipping around on a crowded car. It seems the fear of being kicked gets in the way of the enjoyment. Or maybe the problem is the fact that performers themselves are in the way.
This passenger wasn’t shy about telling breakdancers what she thought of their show on her train. But you have to wonder if screaming and swearing is an effective way to enhance safety on the subway.
New York City Police have also taken the stance that safety is at stake—and they’re concerned not just with individuals but the entire city. Their solution is swift and simple. At a growing rate, they’re arresting performers and charging them with crimes like reckless endangerment. According to this report, fewer than 40 performers were arrested for these kinds of crimes by this time last year. Compare that to 240 performers arrested this year.
The fact is, performing on board a subway train is illegal. It says so right here. But is this really the crime police need to focus on in a city of nearly 8.5 million people?
Some believe they’d do better to solve and prevent “real crimes.” Reports of people being pushed onto subway tracks are, after all, much more disturbing. But Police Commissioner William Bratton takes the stance that unless these performers are stopped, seemingly insignificant crimes like these invite lawlessness into the community. It’s beyond irresponsible to look the other way while performers break the law and make people around them feel afraid.
Despite the risks, there are plenty of passengers who enjoy the performances—even when they’re up close and personal. And many performers say they just want to entertain people. Do they really deserve to be arrested for that?
The answer likely depends on whether you’ve ever been kicked in the head by a breakdancer during your commute home.
Those who continue dodging police to perform will at least have the chance to improve their skills. Maybe if the show is good enough, no one will complain.