From the Naked Cowboy, to the possibly copyright-infringing costumed characters, to those artists who draw those exaggerate portraits of people, New York City—mainly Times Square and the Subways—can be a stage for numerous artists to display their creativity for the mass public to view. However, there seems to one particular group of artists who are not welcomed and it may not be merely related to their specific talent.
If you happen to be a subway rider in the city, you may have encountered a group of about 3 to 4 men of various ages who step into a subway cart or perform out on subway platforms and begin dancing for travelers. Swinging from the handle bars to performing backflips in tight spaces while narrowly avoiding hurting anyone, these Street dancers are considered a joy to some, a nuisance to others, and for some reason more threatening than robbers or thieves for the New York City Police Department.
Recently, videos have been popping up online showing how Streets are continually being targeted by the NYPD and arrested for their performances. However, they haven’t harmed anyone or been accused of anything malicious; also it’s not that they cannot dance that has warranted their arrests. The arrests of several Street dancers are being claimed as incidents of one of the NYPD’s ongoing problem: the stop-and-frisk policy and the continued racial discrimination & criminalization of young men of color.
Local dancers D and Texas are just two Streets who were arrested multiple times by police who were dressed in plain clothes seemingly to target and arrest dancers like them. Not threatening but merely providing entertainment for those who watch them and also non-confrontational if not given a tip, Street dancers are being approached by officers and being charged with reckless endangerment.
While it is hazardous performing in a moving train that is compact, dancers are being targeted by cops on train platforms themselves. Approached by officers wearing plain clothes, the dancers are not told their rights and taken into custody on charges that are not upheld when it goes to court.
In-response to the harassment at the hands of NYPD, a dancer by the name of Tay suggests that the reason dancers are approached is purely based on their appearance. “Just because we have tattoos doesn’t mean we’re bad. We’re good guys.”
Mostly Black or Latino young men, Street dancers could be targeted by the NYPD solely because of the color of their skin. For the past year now, the number of stop-and-frisk cases in the city has doubled with incidents occurring more and more frequently. While the NYPD may cite reckless endangerment it is questioning how true this is. From the way they are dressed, to the tattoos some may wear, and the way they dance it appears that Street dancers are being stopped and frisk largely because of racial profiling.
Although they are being stopped and some are even arrested, there are still Street dancers who go out and perform. What will probably stop them is if it truly becomes unsafe for them, and that may come at the hands of law enforcement. With such performers like the Naked Cowboy or the Naked Cowgirl prowling around the city it is quite obvious there is racial profiling at play when it comes to Street dancers. With Michael Brown & Eric Garner still on our minds and with some in the NYPD seemingly becoming more aggressive, young people of color are still in danger is policies are not changed or amended to prevent further harassment and criminalization.