Once privileges are given, they are soon seen as rights - taking them away will not be well received. This scenario is common in New York City, such as in quality of life campaigns when circumstances beg for attention and there is a broader and stricter enforcement of existing laws. This, of course, invariably precipitates public outcry, particularly from those who are more politically active and vigilant concerning civil rights.
Recently, there was a small show of force and ticketing of street performers in Washington Square Park. This is an extremely contentious issue for a number of reasons, particularly since the area has a history of musical performance, one of the dominant reasons many visit this area. The Village has been known as a center for artists and musicians for a century. Apart from the rights to free speech and expression, however, there are nuances of other laws coming into play regarding busking, solicitation, noise, public disturbance and unlawful assembly.
Shutting down and ticketing performers was met with hostile reaction ranging from anger to outrage. After the recent sweep, the park personnel who had done the ticketing were nowhere to be found - a smart and understandable move. Two officers were on hand however, Alberto Alicea (photo rear) and Tom Grace of the 6th Precinct. The flurry of fury was constant, with a crowd of individuals venting and fuming. Being on the receiving end of a barrage of angry music lovers requires composure because hell hath no fury like an artist warned.
As is the case with many police actions and the law, most citizens are inadequately informed, misinformed or just too angry to have thought the situation through. I knew I was not dealing with the typical "cop" as I first approached the group where Tom was at work explaining a broad number of concepts including exigent circumstance in United States law.
I was extremely impressed not only with Tom's composure and patience, but with his knowledge of the fine details of the law, its intent and interpretation. In addition to his understanding of the academic side of the law, he has a good working knowledge as to its application and the use of common sense and discretion. I spoke with Tom's partner, Alberto Alicea, during these goings on. Al assured me that Tom's intellect and talents at interpretation and explanation of the law were well known. Tom told me he loved to read and also informed me that policemen were now required to have at least 60 university credits to become an officer. Born in New Jersey, Tom now lives in Brooklyn and has been on the police force for 8 years.
He was the perfect spokesperson to have on hand after an event of this nature. I saw one individual after another arrive angry and leave unwillingly satisfied. Tom's approach was not one of debate, but of discussion with calm and clear explanation of the law, the circumstances and police response, always addressing the individual's questions directly.
Being an officer in the New York Police Department is not an easy challenge. Here we have every variant of lawbreaker imaginable, from the innocent tourist committing a minor infraction to seasoned criminals and scam artists who have as good a working knowledge of the law as the police themselves and are often able to ply their trade and evade arrest. Disrespect and defiance is common. I have spent hours conversing with police officers in Washington Square Park. Bicycling in the park is common but a violation, which is clearly stated on numerous signs. Officers typically ask riders to dismount and walk their bikes. Responses vary from polite complicity to open hostile remarks.
Tom quickly volunteered that he saw a police uniform as clothing, behind which were a broad range of individuals like that seen in the population at large. He was not a man to defend the actions or character of any man in uniform and acknowledged that laws are often improperly or unevenly applied.
In the case of the ticketing of the street performers by park officers, many felt that quotas may have been a factor and that many performers were unfairly and unjustly targeted in the action. A few may have been overly zealous and aggressive in their solicitation. Others, however, performed as they always had and were exercising their rights, not enjoying privilege. I'm glad I did not have to defend the actions of the park personnel. To stand amongst an angry mob takes composure and guts. By guts, I mean Grace under Fire :)
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