Sand artist Joe Mangrum holding up summonses totaling $4, 750 in potential fines he received in Washington Square Park - and one in Union Square Park. The artists & musicians had been targeted by the city's new rule that prevents collecting donations near landmarks or monuments in parks. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates)
By Geoffrey Croft
The City has officially dropped issuing summonses to artists & musicians in Washington Square Park who were within 50 feet of a monument or public art installation.
Street performers had been targeted by the city's new rule that prevents collecting donations near landmarks or monuments in parks. In attempting to prohibit and restrict this activity in the park, the Bloomberg administration tried to classify these performers as vendors. The city began issuing tickets under the Parks Department's new Expressive Matter vending rules and had instructed Park Enforcement Patrol officers to write tickets which included unlawful vending and unlawful assembly.
More than a dozen tickets were either thrown out by the court or withdrawn by the Parks Department in December and January.
In February a Parks spokesperson said that 59 Notices of Violation were issued in calendar year 2011 in Washington Square Park. 23 were dismissed after a hearing, of those nine were in various states of appeal or challenge by Parks Department. The agency said that three of the appeals pertained to the performers Tic & Tac from the Bronx.
Tic and Tac from the Bronx have been performing in Washington Square Park for more than 25 years. The tickets issued to them keep getting thrown out in court.
The Parks Department said 9 of the tickets were administratively withdrawn by Parks, 10 were found in violation (guilty) - 10 were pending decisions after hearings, 7 are in default (respondent did not appear in court and has not paid the Notice of Violation.
Critics asserted that the enforcement was a violation of the First Amendment, the vending rules were not applicable and were being enforced arbitrarily. The rule also severely limited the areas in the park where these free speech activities could be done.
At a December hearing the ECB dismissed seven summonses issued to Collin Huggins, his remaining two tickets for "Unlawful Vending" were dismissed by the Parks Department prior to the hearing by mail. In multiple letters sent to the ECB, Assistant commissioner and head of Park Enforcement Mike Dockett admitted that the law the did not apply to Washington Square Park.
Mr. Huggins said he had also been threatened with arrest by PEP Commander Ray Brown.
The city had been in negotiations with Civil Rights attorneys Ron Kuby and Norman Siegel after a December 4, 2011 press conference.
In January we reported that the city had stopped issuing summonses after the public outcry. (The Parks press office denied it) In December the City adjourned the tickets until at least January 31st.
According to Mr. Kuby the City/Parks Department took the position that as long as musicians were not "vending" from "stands," they are free to play - subject to crowd control and other relevant regulations. The musicians will no longer be written summons's for seeking donations as long as they follow the above rules. The Parks Dept. is encouraging people to apply for permits to avoid excessive crowds and conflicts with other scheduled events.
"I'm very happy that the City and the Parks Department, and the artist community have reached a Modus Vivendi," said Mr. Kuby.
On December 21st, an administrative law judge at the city’s Environmental Control Board threw out a summons issued on October 23 to Kareem “Tac” Barnes, 36, who had been performing an acrobatic dance and comedy routine with his twin brother "tic" in Washington Square Park's fountain.
The judge found that they were, "not engaged in an activity that required a permit."
The brothers, known as Tic & Tac - who hail from the Bronx - have worked with Michael Jackson and have toured with Alicia Keys. They have been performing in Washington Square Park for more than 25 years.
Mr. Barnes said all of the approximately 15 summonses they received in 2011 - totaling almost 10, 000 worth of fines - were dismissed.
"In 27 years we've never lost a summons. That should tell you something. We've always abided by the law, " said Barnes.
"They take advantage of those who do not know." I love what I do. This is an art form and as long as I'm able to perform this is what I'll be doing."
He said he was not aware that the Parks Department was appealing any of their tickets.
"The judge said (Parks) can appeal all they want but the law is the law,"
Sand artist Joe Mangrum received six summonses including five in Washington Square Park and one in Union Square Park.
"That's great," Joe Mangano said in reaction to having all six of his tickets dismissed. "They were enforcing rules that weren't in effect in Washington Square Park."
"Parks does not to want performers coming in and making money, " said an officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity."
In a controversial move earlier in the year the city had city also had attempted to prohibit performing near Central Park's Bethesda fountain.
"The Expressive Matter Vending Rules do apply in Washington Square Park and they do apply to performers and musicians who play in exchange for donations," according to a Parks Department spokesperson. "The Expressive Matter Vending Rules (at 56 RCNY 1-05(b)((5)(vi)) prohibit expressive matter vendors from placing display stands within 50 feet of a monument or public art installation. An expressive matter vendor who sets up within 50 feet of a monument or public art installation – without a display stand – is not in violation of this provision.
By The Numbers: According to the Parks Department:
59 Notices of Violation were issued in calendar year 2011:
23 were dismissed after a hearing (9 of these are currently in various states of appeal or challenge by Parks).
9 were administratively withdrawn by Parks
10 were found in violation (guilty).
10 are pending decisions after hearings.
7 are in default (respondent did not appear in court and has not paid the Notice of Violation.
A Walk In The Park - December 22, 2011
A Walk In The Park - December 4, 2011 - By Geoffrey Croft