The subway saxophonist known for playing music to a crowd of small robotic dancing cats and commuters was arrested last week for “impeding pedestrian flow and utilizing a sound reproduction device” at the 34th Street Herald Square subway station, the NYPD said.
In viral social media videos showing the Thursday arrest, the musician, John Ajilo, is seen being placed in handcuffs by several police officers at the same busking spot the performer has used for more than five years to set up his two speakers, grooving cats and a “dancing is happiness” sign.
Ajilo is heard protesting the police’s request to stop performing.
“I’m not committing any crime!” he said in the video.
After a few more warnings, the police then try to put him in handcuffs and grab his saxophone from him.
“My saxophone! My saxophone!” cried Ajilo as officers started holding him back. He repeatedly yelled for help as the arrest continued.
Ajilo posted on his Instagram after the arrest that his wrist was injured and his saxophone and “dancers'' were damaged. He said he received four tickets after spending the night in jail.
In a statement, the NYPD said officers were responding to “complaints from the MTA regarding an unauthorized performer,” and cited a link to the MTA’s subway performance rules. The rules they shared do not specify needing a permit to perform, but they do prohibit performers from playing “at any location where the musical performance would interfere with…the movement of passengers,” which is what the NYPD alleged Ajilo was doing based on the staggered arrangement of his dancing electronic cats.
The NYPD also said Ajilo was stopped for “utilizing a sound reproduction device.” However, the subway performance rules on the MTA’s website do not explicitly say that speakers are not allowed for musicians – only that there are limits to their usage.
But the MTA’s rules of conduct for commuters contradicts the rules for performers by saying that using a “sound production device” can result in a $25 fine.
In a statement, MTA Chief Safety and Security Officer Pat Warren said, “the MTA has rules of conduct that are for the safety of all riders and employees and are not optional. We appreciate the mayor’s and police commissioner’s commitment to keeping New Yorkers safe by ensuring those rules are observed across the transit system.”
Speaking on Fox 5, Mayor Eric Adams said the officers were doing their jobs.
"We can’t have it both ways. Let’s not tell police officers to do a job and then when they do the job, we turn on them and state that they were being heavy-handed," the mayor said. "They were not heavy-handed. They were patient. He was heavy-handed and ignoring them and then he became loud and disruptive to draw attention."
Some New Yorkers that came across the viral video online used it as an opportunity to criticize the Adams’ administration crackdown to “clean-up” the city's subways. The mayor has added an extra 1,000 officers to patrol the subways in an attempt to curb transit crime.
But critics said the additional police presence has resulted in the harassment of more subway vendors, and now, beloved musicians.
Ajilo launched a GoFundMe page, where he has received more than $65,000 in donations as of Monday evening.
“Am only doing my best to make people feel good in Life,” Ajilo said on his social media.
This story was updated to include a comment from Mayor Eric Adams.