New Yorkers don't just love parks for their serenity or greenspace, but for the excitement of possibly breaking an arcane law while enjoying them. Eating a donut in a public playground without a minor? Enjoying a widely-sold, heavily taxed carcinogenic product? You're breaking the law! Add a new statute to the mix: it's illegal for buskers to perform within 50 feet of a monument or landmark. Finally, unobstructed views of the World Famous Garibaldi statue.
A first offense costs $250, and subsequent citations can be as high as $1,000. "It's artistic free speech, and not panhandling or begging," Bronx resident Kareem Barnes tells the Daily News. Barnes has been dancing with his brother Tyheem in Washington Square Park for 25 years under the troupe name Tic and Tac. They've performed with Alicia Keys, Michael Jackson, and at Yankees Stadium. The new law cost Barnes $10,000 worth of summonses since enacted two months ago, but all were erased by an Environmental Control Board. "This is how we make our living," he said.
"Anywhere you are in Washington Square Park you are within 50 feet of a monument," Joe Mangrum, a sidewalk artist said. "Basically, a public park has been regulated to a point where free speech doesn't exist." Wait, Mayor Bloomberg doesn't care about freedom of speech? Magnum says he's been cited six times for a total of $4,750. The Parks Department claims it has only doled out 12 summonses total, a number that appears to be refuted by Mangrum and Barnes' experiences alone.
"This has historical significance," civil rights attorney and gadfly of the city Ron Kuby says. "Once again, Mayor Bloomberg's desire to regulate everything, especially to regulate fun, means he cobbles together a legal rational based on the crazy idea that tourists in Washington Square Park want an unobstructed view of the fountain." Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates, agrees: “This Bloomberg policy is an embarrassment to the city and must stop immediately.”
Ahh, but won't parks be so much more peaceful without all that dreadful busking noise in the air?