Sunday, April 20, 2014

Times Square Rappers: Music -or- Nuisance

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Rappers Paul Washington, Andre Jackson, Robert Price Jr. and Naquan Miles sell their CDs in Times Square.
The rappers are suing the NYPD over alleged harassment.

Rappers Selling CDs in Times Square File Joint Suits Against City, Cops For Violating First Amendment Rights With Bogus Arrests

Eight rappers say the NYPD treats them differently than other vendors and argues that their music sales are protected free speech. The most common charges are for disorderly conduct and aggressive begging, but the rappers say the allegations are phony and their cases are ultimately dismissed.

Hip-hop hustlers who sell their music in Times Square say cops are giving them a bad rap.

— Daniel Beekman

Eight rappers who claim the NYPD has violated their rights with a campaign of bogus arrests have filed joint lawsuits in Manhattan Federal Court against the city and 17 cops.

“They don’t want us making money out here,” said Andre Jackson, 29, a rapper from the Soundview section of the Bronx.
“I’ve been arrested over 30 times.”

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Paul Washington (center) Andre Jackson (second from right) and Robert Price Jr. (right) make a sale.

The eye-popping number of busts was confirmed by the NYPD.

We have our dreams and they want to shut us down.
“We’re having fun out here,” Jackson said. “We’re doing something we’re allowed to do. I guess they had their dreams that they didn’t fulfill. Now we have our dreams and they want to shut us down.”

The rhyme-spitters insist they try to comply with rules laid down by the boys in blue, including a requirement that they stand next to tables to sell their compact discs.

But they get booked anyway.

Disorderly conduct and aggressive begging are the most common charges, with cops saying the rappers aggressively shove CDs at pedestrians, block the sidewalk and follow potential customers down the street. But the rappers claim the allegations are phony and say their cases ultimately get dismissed. They argue their music sales are protected by the First Amendment and claim the NYPD is trampling free speech by treating them differently than other vendors.

“They never have a witness statement. They never put you in a photo array,” said Jackson, who on a recent afternoon hustled at W. 48th St. and Seventh Ave.

“I respect the law. But I don’t respect you trying to make your own law. You’re not a cop anymore. You’re a vigilante.”
The city denies the charges.

“Allegations are merely such until proven otherwise,” a Law Department spokesperson said.

The vendors often rib pedestrians to get their attention, tailoring their sales pitches to what people are wearing and how they look. Their remarks can be annoying.

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The hip-hop artists say they comply to requirements, including standing next to
tables to sell their CDs, but are still booked by cops.

When bad apples cross the line by getting belligerent, the cops make indiscriminate arrests, the plaintiffs claim. They say the NYPD tightened up after Raymond (Ready) Martinez, a Times Square rapper and CD peddler armed with a MAC-10, was killed in a shootout with a cop in 2009.

The rappers say they sometimes plead guilty to violations in order to get out of jail faster.
But in 2012, Jackson says he decided to fight the charges.

They never arrest the spray-paint guys. They never arrest the guys who draw pictures of people.
“I want it to stop,” he said. “They never arrest the spray-paint guys. They never arrest the guys who draw pictures of people. That’s considered art? My music should be considered art, too.”

Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance business district, said the presence of rappers on a daily basis is proof that many vendors obey the law.

“However, some of them engage in aggressive solicitation or intimidation and in those cases arresting them is appropriate,” Tompkins said.

The rappers sued separately in 2013. Now their lawsuits, which seek unspecified damages, are consolidated under one judge.

Rapper Naquan Miles said he went to court to hold cops accountable. “It’s not cool how they treat us,” said Miles, 25.

Reggie Williams and his 13-year-old daughter stopped to buy a CD on a recent afternoon.
“They’re black urban males — people are trained to be afraid of them,” the Ohio man said. “But they’re not going to do anything to you. They’re just trying to get heard. I think it’s great. This is what New York is all about.”
Katie Smith, a former city attorney, is representing the vendors.
“You don’t need to like their music or the way they distribute it to respect their constitutional rights,” Smith said.

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