MANHATTAN (CN) – Street musicians say in Federal Court that a New York City cop illegally booted them from Grand Central Station, then left insulting comments under their YouTube videos through an account linked to racist and homophobic rants.
Brothers Heth and Jed Weinstein, who have played on streets and subways since 2004, defend their work in a 15-page complaint. They sued the City of New York, P.O. [Police Officer] Valdez [Badge No.] 5482, and an Officer Doe.
“Busking is a perfectly legal, honest profession,” the complaint states. “It is not lucrative. The defendants make up to $400 per session, but usually less than $20,000 a year. This is what they love to do, however, and they even published a memoir about it in 2011.”
The memoir, “Buskers,” is subtitled “The On-the-Streets, In-the-Trains, Off-the-Grid Memoir of Two New York City Street Musicians.”
The Weinsteins say that New York’s transit regulation 1050.6 (3)(4) protects their right to play on subways, so long as they keep it under 85 decibels.
“Notwithstanding that performing on the mezzanine within a certain decibel level is permitted and legal, police officers in the city have historically and continually enforced 1050.6 (3)(4) to their whim, to the great frustrations of musicians, some of whom go hungry when the police tell them to pack up and move along,” the complaint states.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority manages a program, “Music Under New York,” or MUNY, to assign subway mezzanines at certain times of day.
“In reality, though, the contention that one must obtain a permit from MUNY to perform on the subway – so long as the performance is on the mezzanine and does not exceed decibel levels – is a polite fiction, and one that police officers in New York are not consistently trained in,” the complaint states. “Therefore, some officers recognize the certificates, others won’t, and others recognize them arbitrarily based on their musical taste.”
The Weinsteins, who perform as Heth and Jed Community Rockers, say they got a permit in 2010, when Police Officer Isaac Valdez started taunting them during their act. They say Valdez insulted them about their age, clothes and long hair, saying, “You guys look like a dirty version of the Goo Goo Dolls.”
(Officer Valdez’s first name was reported by the Gothamist.com.)
On Sept. 21, 2011, the brothers say, Valdez picked on them again, when he saw one of them wearing a rainbow shirt for gay pride.
The Weinsteins say they asked what law they were breaking.
The complaint states: “In response Valdez grabbed his badge, turned it toward them and said, ‘That’s the law right there.’
“Plaintiffs, exasperated at the treatment they had received from Valdez and his partner over the past year, responded, ‘Oh you think because you have a gun and
a badge you can make up the law?’
“Valdez responded, threateningly, ‘You’re lucky I have a gun and a badge, because if I didn’t it would be a different story.’ This was his way of being tough and saying that if he weren’t on duty he’d beat them up.” (Footnote omitted.)
(Valdez’s unidentified partner, “Officer Doe,” allegedly allowed the abuse.)
That night, the Weinsteins visited their YouTube account, and say they found that Valdez, under the handle “idgv8314,” left the same insult he had directed at them in person.
“‘You guys look like a dirty version of the Goo Goo Dolls who need some sleep,'” the post from idgv8314 stated, according to the complaint.
The complaint continues: “This was a big mistake for Valdez. Plaintiffs traced idgv8314’s comments throughout YouTube, and found that Valdez had long been expressing hate speech on YouTube, having said some dreadfully nasty things.
“On a video of a person getting arrested in New York City, he rebutted a charge of police brutality by stating ‘because they [the police] have to play by the rules so big pussies like you won’t yell police brutality. I hope one of them shoots you in the head one day so it won’t take so many[.]’
“On a video about a report about Sean Bell, a black man who was shot by the police 50 times, and City Council Person Charles Barron was making comments about the police on Fox News. Valdez compared Barron, a black activist, to a gorilla: ‘Another thing MR. Barron THE SVAGE LEADER it is department policy not to shoot at a car but, this isnt a department trial, its a criminal trial and NYS Penal Law says you can shoot and a moving car if your life is in danger so go do what you do best swing on a vine and stop gragging your nuckles on the floor.’
“Valdez continued: ‘you guys are so fucking stupid, praising fucking low five’s [sic]. If you hate The Police so much tell the to leave your neiborhood [sic] and lets see the grace of the BLACK SAVAGES come out. Barron is full of shit I hope to see the
SAVAGES act with violence because its going to be a massacre I am going to enjoy because the cops are not going to be doing the bleeding.’
“He repeated the BLACK SAVAGES comment later, and added: ‘If Bell was such a nice person I wonder what his w2’s have on it, oh I forgot he was self employed’
“On a music video in which Valdez perceived the performer as homosexual, Valdez stated, ‘I feel the need to say u r a gay so go smell some man ass or go to
Thailand and get urself some little boy to enjoy.’
“On a video entitled ‘Ice Cream Girl Harrassed by NYPD,’ during which objective observers videotaped a woman on a bicycle at an ice cream truck was arrested for no reason, Valdez commented, ‘Domestic Spying, domestic spying you fucking fagots dont u have anything es [sic] better to do. Fucking critical mass go to Thailand and ease your craving for little boys you bunch of fagots[.]'” (Spelling, grammar and brackets as in complaint.)
The complaint cites other, similar posts attributed to Valdez, referring to “‘Every liberal fagot,'” “‘You bunch of man ass loving liberals, you guys would never pickup a rifle and defend your nation u bucnh [sic] of Frenchwannabes[.]’,” and so on.
The Weinsteins claim that these rants, and others, disappeared soon after they complained to Valdez’s superior officer.
“Mysteriously, the idgv8314 Youtube account came down within days of the complaints and idgv8314’s comments were assiduously removed by either Valdez or other members of the NYPD,” the complaint states.
The Weinsteins, however, printed out screenshots of them in 8 pages of exhibits, which are attached to the complaint.
Though Valdez denied being “idgv8314,” the Weinsteins say he used the same handle on a home-design website, on which he posted family photos at his townhouse in Staten Island.
“If all of this does not adds up to a smoking gun that idgv8314 is Valdez, then discovery in this litigation should,” the complaint states.
Adding injury to insult, the brothers say, Valdez filed a false complaint to MUNY, defaming the Weinsteins’ as a “menace” who screamed profanities at pedestrians.
The Weinsteins call those allegations a “vicious lie,” which cost them lucrative busking real estate around Christmastime.
“Plaintiffs are the proverbial singers for their supper; how would it make sense that they would tell the very people they hope to get a dollar from to fuck off,” the complaint states.
The Weinsteins seek punitive damages for civil rights violations, defamation, and a Monell claim against New York City for allowing street musicians to be harassed.
The Weinsteins are represented by Gregory Antollino.