Eight rappers who sell music on Times Square have filed a lawsuit against New York City and 17 police officers in the New York Police Department because they claim their rights have been violated, according to the New York Daily News.
Andre Jackson, 29, a Soundview emcee who says he’s been arrested more than 30 times, says police officers “don’t want us making money out here.”
Jackson says there are also other reasons police officers have focused on them. “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…I want it to stop. 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.”
Rappers interviewed by the Daily News say they have been booked despite complying with rules police officers have outlined, including a requirement that vendors stand next to tables to sell their CDs. They are mainly booked on charges of disorderly conduct and aggressive begging. Officers say rappers “aggressively shove CDs at pedestrians, block the sidewalk and follow potential customers down the street,” according to the publication.
Rappers say these allegations are false and that their cases usually get dismissed. Others reportedly plead guilty to get out of jail faster. They say their sales should be protected by the First Amendment and that the NYPD is trying to block their freedom of speech.
“They never have a witness statement,” Jackson says. “They never put you in a photo array…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.”
A Law Department spokesperson addressed Jackson’s claims.
“Allegations are merely such until proven otherwise,” the spokesperson said.
Police representatives also say that the NYPD’s enforcement treatment of the vendors has become more stringent after a 2009 incident. During the incident, Raymond “Ready” Martinez, a Times Square rapper and vendor, was involved in a shootout with a police officer.
The eight rappers sued separately last year. Their lawsuits are now consolidated under one judge.
Katie Smith, a former city attorney who is representing the vendors, says that “you don’t need to like their music or the way they distribute it to respect their constitutional rights.”
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