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NYC Changes Message for Subway Performers

Acrobatic dancer Nasir Malave, 5, dances on a subway train in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration is urging subway dancers to take their acts above ground where, officials say, they can still make some money and avoid arrest. Acrobatic subway performers became a bigger target last year, with plainclothes, subway-riding police officers discouraging performances on the rails. But now, instead of arresting dancers, police are handing them small, brightly colored cards that read “Make money. Avoid arrest. Dance!”

It’s all part of a pilot program called “It’s Showtime NYC.” According to the New York Times, transit officers carry the cards, and about 200 have been handed to dancers since the initiative began in May. Joseph Fox, the chief of the police department’s transit bureau, told the Times that arrests of dancers are down: 185 through late August, compared with 264 over the same period in 2014.

According to the Times:

The effort is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s bid to achieve a delicate balance in his law enforcement agenda: maintain a commitment to so-called broken-windows policing — the aggressive enforcement of low-level crimes — while easing the burden of those accused of committing the offenses, often young black and Hispanic men, who become entangled in the justice system disproportionately. Many of the subway dancers are young black men.

Fox told the Times that most of the men being arrested or receiving summons for dancing did not have extensive criminal records. Many had contact with the criminal justice system for minor offenses, but only about one-quarter of them had been arrested for a more serious offense like felony assault or robbery.

The number of officers patrolling subways has not changed, Fox told the Times. “We’re deployed the same way, we’re doing essentially the same number of operations, and we’re making 30 percent less arrests.”