Busking in the City

This is my youngest performing in Union Square . Lately, he has been performing in Times Square with his best friend on a teeny guitar. They chose to perform in front of Toys R Us because they figured that it was safer for a couple of kids, than performing in front of the peepshows.

A few weeks ago, when they were performing, a policeman angrily told them to leave. They did. The next day I called 311, the city information line, and found out the rules about street performing. Street performances are allowed as long as they are not amplified. Certain other regulations come into play if you play in a park. As far as we could see, the kids were within their rights to be playing where they were.

Last Sunday, they went back. The same policeman came back and threatened to arrest the kids if they should ever appear there again. The kids went to our local police precinct and asked what they ought to do. The staff there gave the boys the number of the Mid-Town South precinct.

Monday morning, I called and spoke to the Community Affairs Officer. As soon as I began to speak, his tone became threatening " Do you know what you are doing calling us and telling us this? You are being negligent in allowing your child to be in Times Square unsupervised. This is an official call. Do you know what you are admitting to here???. Do you know that we will have a record of this call??? Your child needs to be in an after school program. " He then said that the boys need a permit, and that they can't get that permit. He also said that the boys may not be in Times Square without a supervising adult

At first I thought," Maybe I am being negligent? ". 

 But then giving it a bit more rational thought.  Two New York City High school boys to be in Times Square during day time hours is not an unusual or a bad thing. Kids go there all the time.

I then called the Community Affairs Officer at our local precinct to be sure that my thinking was not off base. She assured me that what the boys were doing looked kosher to her. My husband and I had decided to go visit the precinct in person to figure out exactly what the law was .

We, all three of us, went to the Mid Town South Precinct together. The officers and the desk called upstairs to the Community Affairs Officer. They reported that he had gone out, or was perhaps gone for the day. They then told me that the laws pertaining to Times Square were different than for the rest of the city, but they could not tell me what those laws were.

When I told the officers how the Community Affairs officer attempted to intimidate me the adorable female officer looked at me and said " You know, some people are just assholes." Her fellow officer then wrote down the number of the Police Legal Affairs office and suggested that I call them to get the exact laws on performing in Times Sqare.

This morning I called the number. The person who answered the phone told me that the staff lawyers could only speak to police officers. She connected me to a different office. Again I explained the situation. The person I spoke to connected me to yet another person, who put me back on the phone with the first person I had spoken to in the legal affairs office.

I then walked over to my local precinct and spoke to the Community Affairs Officer. He took time out in the middle of an arrest of  a perpetrator to answer my question. He could not have been lovelier. He gave me the number of the Central Community Affairs officer for Manhattan South. That officer said that my son may need a permit, but it was difficult to get a permit. I asked who to call to get a performance permit, but he didn't know  who I needed to call . He suggested that I call the local community board and gave me a telephone number. The number he gave me was not of the community board, but of the Mid Town South Precinct.

So, now I need to figure out my next step. Clearly the boys are not going to perform in Times Square until we get a clearer answer about how to have them perform in a kosher manner. Until then, they will perform in Union Square.

I love how helpful and genuinely nice the officers are in our local precinct. The officers in Mid Town Soth seems to be functioning in an entirely different city, almost under a different government.

Do any of you have any ideas out of this bizarre thicket???


  1. No, but it's a good story. Two resourceful boys being threatened by the police. Hmm. Not good pr that's for sure. Call one of the local tv stations and maybe they'd be interested in sorting it out.

  2. Lawyer up and go to the media. Unfortunately, that's how the game has to be played nowadays.

  3. so common whenever young people want to be involved with music as performers or audience members. allages.net is a good resource but doesn't solve your immediate problem.

  4. Sorry that I have no help, but I was amazed reading your dedication to solving this. Thank you for sticking to this; every act could help the next kid.

  5. We had a similar situation in our little suburb when the kids had a Powderpuff Football game in the local park during their high school homecoming week. The police told them they needed a permit to play on the unused football field in the local park. I finally stood with them in front of the town council meeting, where the park commissioner & police chief were required to get us a written answer. Turns out the cop was responding to a family member who lived across the street & didn't like kids (Guess they should have considered that when buying a house between a school & a park!)

    Most of the time, when we have been sent into one of these "endless circles" by our local civil servants (who have forgotten that is what they are!) we contact our local city councilperson's office. The staff there can usually cut through the nonsense & get us the correct answer, or at least find the person to give us the answer. This works in our daughters' city of a half million, and it used to work in Chicago. Maybe that's worth a try.
    Sue in MN

  6. Move to Detroit?

  7. Take a lawyer along, get a couple of videographers, put a wire on your kids, and send them to Times Square. When they get accosted, have them point out the videographers and lawyers. When they get arrested, have your lawyer make the DA tell you what the law is. When there is no such law, sue for false arrest, PROFIT!

    Seriously, sometimes the only way to teach the cops is to have their own lawyers do it.

  8. Beth Kimberly-

    I negotiated for the right schools for my kids. That was much much harder. This is a piece of cake in comparison.

    I was really fortunate because Lenore Skenazy picked this up and tweeted about it. This has been picked up by several blogs.

    In synagogue, we found out that a friend who works for one of the boro presidents has been comissioned to write a booklet for the city on the rules for street buskers.So we will be consulting with one another as we go on the path of finding out exactly what the rules are.


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