Home View from Underground Bill Bratton to kick off a War on Showtime

Bill Bratton to kick off a War on Showtime

by Benjamin Kabak

It’s no secret around these parts that I’m not much of a fan of the “Showtime!” crews that roam our subways. I find their antics tiresome, and over the past few years, they’ve grown more aggressive with moving weary straphangers out of the way, blasting loud music and coming precariously close to kicking New Yorkers in the face. What was once a gimmick has become a nuisance.

I know I’m not alone either. In a recent poll here, nearly three-quarters of my readers expressed similar sentiments. I’ve found that people who really love Showtime are enthusiastic supporters while those of us who don’t like it hate it with a passion. Now, we can count NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton amongst our ranks.

In an interview with Capital New York’s Dana Rubinstein, Bratton discussed some quality-of-life issues when he mentioned his time riding the subway. (For some reason, the police commissioner’s subway rides are headline-making news, but that’s a concerning development for another day.) Lately, cops have been targeted panhandlers and illegal subway peddlers as part of a ticking blitz, and it seems that Showtime is next.

Bratton has always been a believer of the broken windows theory of law enforcement, and we could debate for hours whether ticketing panhandlers, who have no money to pay fines, and sleeping straphangers, who aren’t hurting anyone, is a worthwhile use of NYPD resources. The Showtime crews are a more active menace. “The issues of concern are those quality-of-life issues, the acrobats, the aggressive begging, the people manipulating the swipe cards in the turnstiles,” Bratton said. “We’re going to be having significant focus on those issues. You’ll see more police and you’ll see them more aggressively going after those so-called quality of life issues, which create fear, frustration and sometimes anger.”

So there you have it: The NYPD chief doesn’t like “the acrobats.” The War on Showtime is going to enter an entirely new battleground soon.

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MH March 13, 2014 - 5:22 pm

A couple of days ago I was on the N line going across the Bridge and these kids were doing the routine, at first they had technical difficulties and couldn’t get the music to play. Then, later when they started their “show” one of them landed wrong and hit this lady in her leg. They apologized and they interacted with the riders. But all in all that ish is annoying! That’s why I try to ride the numbered lines (not as much space for that) What would you do if they told you to move out the way when trying to perform?

Bolwerk March 13, 2014 - 6:51 pm

Nothing. When they asked me to move, I was content with my own antisocial behavior (pole-leaning).

Knowing they’d just set up somewhere else, which they did, I might have complied had there been another free pole though. 🙁

Christopher Stephens March 13, 2014 - 6:09 pm

If Bratton can eradicate these performers, I may have to say nice things about him. I’m skeptical that he can get the troops on the ground to do anything about them, though.

I think you’re missing the point of Bratton’s return to the “broken windows” approach. The point of this strategy was not just to issue tickets, even to panhandlers who couldn’t pay, nor was it about finding low-level criminals in order to prevent crime. It was about reclaiming public spaces, showing that someone is looking after the space, caring about it, and making sure that other law-abiding users can feel comfortable there. Think of the MTA’s efforts to remove all graffiti from the system. It showed that the subway had not been abandoned and that a degree of order could be guaranteed. Yes, not 100% successful, but part of what makes the subway feel safe enough for thousands to use it even late at night. The showtime kids and the aggressive panhandlers are in the same category as graffiti: signs that those in charge aren’t exercising enough control. Eliminating this behavior will go a long way to making everyone’s commute better. And for those who enjoy the showtime kids, I’m sure you’ll find some other way of entertaining yourselves on the train. Perhaps I can recommend some nice books to read?

RT March 13, 2014 - 6:18 pm

The problem is that is imposing – no different than panhandlers, mariachi bands, and hearing some other person’s music through THEIR headphones. Anything that goes beyond the sounds and level of normal conversation is going too far and should be banned. Bringing awareness to it, through advertising and enforcement, would help on putting us back on the right path. As for Bratton, he’s not perfect but I think few miss the squeegee guy, graffiti, and boom boxes.

SEAN March 13, 2014 - 7:13 pm

As dumb as this might sound, when I first read the title I took it as Bratton was going to appear on Showtime as aposed to the anoying performers on the subway. But to their benefit, some of the kids do have tallent. Just kill the music.

Frank B March 13, 2014 - 9:24 pm

“Swipe Card?” What the hell is a swipe card?

Makes sense though. Bratton was last in the NYPD in 1996. The Metrocard wasn’t even phased in then…

Alex C March 13, 2014 - 9:28 pm

I really hope they do get the showtime guys off the trains, but do it without the usual NYPD methods of beating the shit out of people to show them who’s boss.

JMB March 13, 2014 - 10:05 pm

I’m giving this a solid grumpy cat “Good”. These guys are just tiresome. Their routines are nothing we all haven’t seen before. They are brazen and I’ve been close to getting my face kicked when they do their tired nonsense (like Bolwerk up above, I refuse to move). They are actively trashing our trains too..i love the new footprints that adorn the ceiling on the N train. Yes, just more damage to our shared space with not a thought in the world.

I get where they are coming from too…., they want to make a buck and “dancing” is healthy. But keep it to Times/Herald/Union square where you can make $$ off the tourists.

Spendmor Wastemor March 13, 2014 - 10:25 pm

“panhandlers, who have no money to pay fines…”

Panhandlers in NYC typically do have money: most are on SSI, as there’s an express application route from either the shelter or prison systems.
Others have one or another racket going and fill spare time panhandling/scoping out the neighborhood/intimidating people.

A few are lost souls; they are less aggressive and get very little income from it.

Jim D. March 14, 2014 - 8:37 am

Glad to hear this. Just let us ride in peace.

Alon Levy March 14, 2014 - 9:36 am

Apparently, NYPD doesn’t have enough real crime to deal with, so it declares war on buskers.

normative March 14, 2014 - 10:05 am

“Apparently, NYPD doesn’t have enough real crime to deal with, so it declares war on buskers.”

Subway acts are culturally nyc. This is not texas or dc. The train ride is an experience not a pharmaceutically-numb point-A to point-B ride. No one is impressed with ny as a calm, deferent, play-by-the rules city. What other city had the creativity that saw poor teenagers from poverty-stricken areas create a whole style of dancing (breakdancing has huge international competitions, and put it on for free in public spaces? When did ny become so grumpy and restrictive?

If your being honest, subway acts last at most about one full minute to one minute and half. In my entire life of riding the trains, I have never witnessed one altercation or disruption from a performance. If you have seen it before, you acted just as you were; if you see something different, you smile, maybe clap, and give a dollar if you’re in a good mood. That is what ny is all about.

JMB March 14, 2014 - 10:26 am

Except when these routines last far more than a minute and they are not only invading someone’s personal space, but doing so quite dangerously such that they can (and frequently do) injure riders.

Christopher Stephens March 14, 2014 - 10:27 am

No. Subway acts are not “culturally nyc”. They are a recent phenomenon, and one that should have been nipped in the bud. Even if they were a longstanding tradition, that would not make them OK any more than decades of graffiti were something that should have been tolerated. I can imagine you excusing that, too: “if you don’t like graffiti, just look the other way”; “if you don’t like litter on the platform, stop complaining – you won’t have to stand there too long until your train comes.”

Even if you are correct in that the acts aren’t that long (I think you’re wrong about that, as they certainly feel endless, but I’ve never taken a stopwatch to them), that also doesn’t make them OK. Why should my morning commute get interrupted by any individual demanding my attention. If you were walking down the street to work, would you just accept someone playing a boom box in your ear and getting your face for block after block after block?

Subways, and especially subway cars, are a different public space because the audience there is captive. That’s why it’s illegal to panhandle on the subway – the free speech issue is outweighed by the rights of those who choose not to have to listen, or so says the Supreme Court. That whole cliche about your right to express yourself ends at the tip of my nose becomes painfully real when the showtime kids are swinging their feet around the poles. There are plenty of places for people to express themselves (remember, break dancing didn’t start in the subways – they were too dangerous back then). Let’s leave the subways for getting from A to B.

normative March 14, 2014 - 12:59 pm

I grew up in brooklyn and remember seeing subway acts as a kid in the 90s. So I wouldn’t say they were recent. I don’t imagine anything about your arguments, so why do you with mine.

I never stated that because they aren’t that long that therefore they are okay. I am stating that if your honest it is really only about a minute to a minute and half, and I never once witnessed someone get injured. In these types of arguments, people tend to exaggerate the length of the act and the frequency of times it has a lead to an injury. You admit yourself: it ‘feel[s] endless.’ The reason I bring this up is that even though I use a popular line every day for breakdancing ( the j train), (a) if I’m honest and look the actual (not felt) percentage of times I have seen on a daily ride, (b) the actual time the performance lasts, and (c) how many injuries I have seen….(I am estimating, but I can keep track if you want) I get roughly twice a month, for about a minute, with no single injury ever witnessed. Try it yourself.

Not sure what you’re after with the supreme court. Please cite the case where the Supreme Court said panhandling on the subway is illegal because of the ‘rights of those that chose not to listen’ because they are captive. (If you don’t, I’ll assume you made it up.)

Actually breakdancing first became popular in the south Bronx in the late 70s, which was very dangerous.

I have seen all types of performances on the train—religious proselytizers, a comedian doing his act, a politician running for mayor (reverend billy), a kid who wanted to be a pop star using the train to help him overcome his nerves he gets for auditions, and yes breakdancing kids. If you honestly just want a quiet train ride, then I encourage you to write the police, your politicians, and do what you what you got to do to stop all that. For me, it’s just part of what makes ny special and unique, and what I expect from my train ride.

Christopher Stephens March 14, 2014 - 1:21 pm

Making that case up? No, let me Google that for you:
http://www.nytimes.com/1990/11.....gging.html (and the name of the case is Young v. NYCTA)

Sounds like you need to be entertained on your subway ride. May I suggest some excellent podcasts? Or maybe you can read a book instead? The vast majority of us want to be left in peace during our ride. If New York is not “special” or “unique” enough without a barrage of “entertainment” during your commute, your expectations are way too high. Based on what you’ve written, I can only expect that you are the guy who really enjoys having television shows broken up by loud commercials. “Such creativity! What catchy jingles! Television wouldn’t be the same without them!”

Benjamin Kabak March 14, 2014 - 1:22 pm

Sounds like you need to be entertained on your subway ride. May I suggest some excellent podcasts?

I hear this one is pretty good.

Christopher Stephens March 14, 2014 - 1:24 pm

It _is_ good! That’s one mighty fine podcast you’re doing, Mr. Kabak. Looking forward to the next episode.

normative March 14, 2014 - 2:07 pm

Did you rad what I wrote?

What you said: “Subways, and especially subway cars, are a different public space because the audience there is captive. That’s why it’s illegal to panhandle on the subway – the free speech issue is outweighed by the rights of those who choose not to have to listen, or so says the Supreme Court.”

What I said: ” Please cite the case where the Supreme Court said panhandling on the subway is illegal because of the ‘rights of those that chose not to listen’ because they are captive. (If you don’t, I’ll assume you made it up.)”

what your article DID NOT SAY: It never says the passengers are a different form of public space BECAUSE THEY ARE CAPTIVE.Nor does it say ‘the free speech issue is outweighed by the rights of those who choose not to have to listen’. It doesn’t mention anything about that at all. Read it again. If you want to lie about a supreme court ruling to make your point seem more legitimate, by all means.

Ah look you can be sarcastic, how cute.

Christopher Stephens March 14, 2014 - 2:12 pm

Did you read the decisions in the lower courts? Because that’s where the distinction gets made. I really have better things to do that perform legal research for you.

Bolwerk March 14, 2014 - 5:06 pm

They seem tailored to the time between subway stops. Probably 2-3 minutes tops?

Dave March 14, 2014 - 1:06 pm

Really. I’m so glad you have appointed yourself arbiter of what is “culturally New York”, and decided for the rest of us that the train ride is an “experience”, so anything goes, however dangerous and illegal it may be. Anyone who disagrees is just “grumpy and restrictive.”

How unreasonable of me to think that my right not to be endangered and harassed supersedes someone’s supposed “right” to endanger and harass me. What was I thinking?

By the way, will you be paying the medical bills when one of these punks finally shatters someone’s jaw with a kick? Knocks some teeth out? Breaks their nose? Or is that part of the “experience”, too?

pete March 14, 2014 - 1:46 pm

Would you defend Showtime on a plane too?

Bolwerk March 14, 2014 - 5:04 pm

I don’t like these shows, and think they’re inane. And the music is terrible. But that’s not the problem. The problem is a moving train is not an appropriate place to do this stuff. Basically reiterating what I said before: I actually think the MTA or city could loosen up on the rules a bit and give these kids *somewhere* to do their dance. Somewhere could be a subway mezzanine for all I care.

Christopher Stephens March 14, 2014 - 5:20 pm

There is already a program for performing artists in subway stations: http://web.mta.info/mta/aft/muny/

The problem with your suggestion is that there really isn’t anywhere suitable underground for children to perform. Dance routines take up too much space.


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