New York subway acrobats put police in a spin

Crackdown on performers ordered, but passengers don't seem to mind

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 July, 2014, 12:39am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 July, 2014, 12:39am


The underground acrobats who flip, somersault and pole-dance among New York subway riders as trains roll are drawing a new audience - police officers.

The New York Police Department is cracking down on the subway showmen who use the tight quarters of the nation's busiest transit system as moving stages for impromptu - and illegal - pass-the-hat performances.

More than 240 have been arrested for offences related to acrobatics so far this year, compared with fewer than 40 at this time a year ago.

Police Commissioner William Bratton acknowledges he is targeting subway acrobats as part of his embrace of the "broken windows" theory of policing - that low-grade lawlessness can cultivate a greater sense of disorder and embolden more dangerous offenders.

"Is it a significant crime? Certainly not," Bratton said. But he said it begged the question: "Does it have the potential both for creating a level of fear as well as a level of risk that you want to deal with?"

We just try to go inside the train and change the vibe

The subway acrobats say they are just out to entertain, make a living and put a little communal levity into New York's no-eye-contact commuting.

"We just try to go inside the train and change the vibe," said a performer named Besnkheru, who spoke on condition his full name was not used. Hopping on and off trains one recent afternoon, Besnkheru sang to amplified recordings ranging from Michael Jackson to Latin jazz while his performance partner, Domingo, danced, clowned and used the car's bars and poles like playground equipment.

The pair won many smiles - some from passengers who initially seemed determined not to look - and several dollars.

But other passengers resent becoming a captive audience. "I don't like all that action going on right in front of my face," rider Kesia Hudson said.

Police believe most riders agree with Hudson. Though no injuries have been reported, they also insist the showmanship is a safety issue.

"If the dancers make a mistake, someone could get hurt," said Chief Joseph Fox, head of the NYPD's Transit Bureau.