The Guns in My Face - 10/7/15

The weight of my boombox seemed heavier than usual. I was a bit down. I decided to do what I do to raise my mood. I decided to dance. I walked to my usual place in Downtown Crossing since it was on the way to the hospital. There was a police officer on a motorbike sitting exactly where I usually set my sign. I didn't care to attract his attention. Not because I felt I was doing something illegal, but because I wasn't in the mood to have to fend off random bullies today. So, I set up down the street a little way to avoid any altercations. Despite my added effort, it didn't work out. First a homeless man tried appended to me. He put a cup down next to my bag and started doing a low quality dance. I ignored him. People continued to donate into my bag and not into his cup -- as they should given that he was just in my way. After a bit, he seemed upset and reached towards my bag, at which point I stopped him and told him to "get out of here. Leave, now." There was an audience who jumped in to fend off the homeless man as well. He left. The cop who had occupied my spot earlier walked by on patrol. He said, "I don't mind you doing that, but you can't be in the way. You've got to move to the side." He walked away with those words. I wasn't really in the way, and my act is highly mobile, so I can move it very quickly in case of emergency. His rules weren't really applicable to me, so I continued. On his stroll back towards his motorcycle, he stopped again, "I told you before, you need to move back. Are you going to listen?" I replied, "Ooookay, but if I'm not visible, I don't get donations. You're breaking my balls, man. You're breaking my balls." I moved my stuff back a ways and started dancing. With the move back, my efficacy was dramatically decreased. I couldn't raise money if I wasn't garnering attention and the donation bag wasn't easily accessible by being "in the way". I moved my boombox and bag again. I was about 3-4 feet from the curb in the middle of the "way". This was a pedestrian only street about 30 feet across, my being able to block the way with my dancing was an impossibility. So, the cop returned again on his motorbike. This time he was more disgruntled.

"All right, time to pack it up," he said. His eyes stared aggressively into mine.

I twitched. I was already upset. This was not the time to press into me. "Why?"

"Pack it up. I told you to move. I was nice about it. You didn't move. So, it's time to pack it up."

I offered him what I could, "But I'm raising money for charity. Did you read the sign?"
"It doesn't matter."

It doesn't matter he said. The crowd that gathered grew and moved in closer. My opponent here, although he was formerly quite polite, had launched into a world that he didn't understand. OF COURSE IT MATTERS. The results and the means all matter. Blindly throwing around authority is not your job. Every situation should be treated as an individual situation. I had given him a chance. I rose my voice.

"Ok, what laws are you shutting me down for? You told me to go away. Based on what laws. This is public property."

He reached for his breast pocket. I thought he was about to pull out his citation pad. Instead, he reached for the radio on his shoulder, "I'm about to find out."

"So, you don't know. You're threatening me without any reason."

A woman in the crowd jeered, "He obviously doesn't have Facebook."

My voice rose further. I grabbed my phone and handed it to one of the people standing by, "Here, can you take a video of this for me please." If I received a citation, the world would know why.

Another audience member joined the conversation, "You know he's famous, right? He's all over Facebook."

This wasn't about being famous. It was about the idea that blind exercise of power is dangerous, and that somebody had to stand against it to set an example. DoctorBeDancing happened to be in an appropriate place to do that. He was able to send that message.

The policeman was obviously nervous. He wasn't prepared for what he had stepped into.

"Ok, what's your badge number?" I looked over at his badge. "It's badge #1927," I declared louder yet for the camera record. "I'm being told to shut down on public property for breaking no laws. Do you know what laws you're threatening me with?" I reinforced. 

The officer continued to talk into his radio and cell phone. Another officer arrived to help diffuse the situation.
Another random passerby shouts out, "Hey! I saw you on NBC!"

I wave to him and smile, "Hi! Thanks!"

I address the police again, "I can tell you what the laws are. I have been through this before. You're going to threaten me with: soliciting money without a permit. No permits are required for street performance in the City of Boston. And the other one is noise. The noise laws in Boston are 'clearly audible from 100 feet away'. I'm not breaking that law either."

Two more police vehicles pull into this small pedestrian only alley way. Yes, they called for back-up on me. The officer walks away to go talk to his superior seated in the car. Then, I am beckoned over. I can tell what has occurred. The higher ranking officer is much more charismatic. Back-up was called not to escalate, but to diffuse the situation. I explain my side, and am heard. The confrontation has left adrenaline pumping through my veins. Changing stances from aggressive to cordial. I reiterate multiple times, "There's no hard feelings. I don't mean to be a pain. But I pour my sweat into this, and it's stressful -- just like your job. Tempers will boil over. But ultimately, I get upset when someone tries to push me away without reason when I'm just trying to help the community."

I walk back to my crowd of supporters and thank them for their help. We talk with one of the other officers who explains that their job is stressful and how they could have just "had 2 guns pointed in his face earlier today". To which I reply, "Well, I mean, you guys each have guns too, right? So I had at least 3 guns in my face 5 minutes ago!"

Ultimately, what separates a hero from a criminal is socio-centricity, the idea that what you're doing benefits someone other than yourself. The reason I chose to take a stand is because a blind exercise of power is dangerous. In no way did taking a stand help me, but we hear so many stories in the news about how authorities target individuals without reason. The question we should all ask ourselves is: do I back down? Do I allow this behavior to continue, or do I stand up for what I believe in and represent the people who can't represent themselves? I know what my duty is.