Ever been arrested for selling your artwork? Here’s my story:
I went into SOHO with my Mrs. to sell posters and buttons of my artwork from a little stand that I put together. We got to W B’way and set up at the next available space which turned out to be in front of the swanky “Miro, Chagall, Dali, Picasso” gallery. I’m sure you all know it well as the place to get over-priced prints from several major and majorly dead artists. As soon as we set up, this very ginger man gingerly comes over to me and tells me “you simply have to move”. “There’s no vendors allowed in front of this building. It’s the law”, he said. I replied “actually it isn’t the law, but in the interest of keeping the peace, I’ll move”. He walks back into his shop. My setup is so small, the gear so light, that we just picked everything up and walked 15 feet down to the next space. There was this guy (Nik) smoking admiring the posters I had out. “Did you do these?” he asked. “Yes” I replied. “They are very good”. “Thanks” I say. He walked back to his shop. Nice guy.
Around this time I see some older looking 60-ish white man in a very expensive white long sleeve shirt standing outside the Miro gallery. You know the type: $1200 jeans, $2000 shoes. You could smell his money and superior attitude. He was talking on a cell phone. Looking around at each vendor on his street. I realized that this guy was going to be a problem, but I felt I had done my homework and my vendor status/stand was legal. NOTE: You don’t need to have a vendor license to sell Expressive Matter- paintings, posters, prints, drawings, buttons, etc. I believed based on the information on the government/state websites that the buttons fell into that “it’s art” category. So far so good, yea? After about 40 minutes outside people-watching I go get a coffee. My wife stayed behind with the stand. I came back to see a few people at my table checking things out.
I go over, coffee in hand, and that’s when the story really gets good. The American guy (with bulldog looking partner), tall with short hair and polo, said he liked my stand. We talked about the prints and then he started asking questions about the 4 packs of Fuzzy Poet buttons I had for sale. I mean, he’s really pushy. He was itching for a sale and he just wouldn’t stop. I told him they were $3 for each 3 pack. I asked him his name and he mine and he asked me if I owned the stand. At this point there was no reason for me to believe anything was amiss. My Tax ID was prominently displayed, etc. Long story short on this part: He’s an undercover cop and there’s a problem with my buttons. He tells me that he considers buttons “useful” and that they do not fall under the Expressive Matter Category. He informs me, that he will have to arrest me and book me. I look at him in disbelief. I remember telling him that this was my first time out here- what if I just take them off the table (can I walk)? He wasn’t having any of that due to the high volume of calls and the call from the fat-cat white gallery owner.
Where’s my wife? Well I go over to explain to her that I will be arrested and taken to booking downtown and that she needed to stay with the stand and sell stuff. No reaction. She totally froze. Then her shaking began. Stressed to the bone over my arrest she was. Officer A**** took me aside and asked me if she was OK. I told him she has PTSD and is a 9/11 survivor. I assured him and her that everything would be OK. I told her the same thing again before she fainted. She fell right on her back and cracked her head on the NY pavement. It was like hearing a homerun- bat against ball. All three of us- me, the arresting officer Ar**** and bulldog man go to help her up. She’s non-responsive. We tossed around the idea of getting her oxygen, or taking her to the hospital, but I decided to see if she would snap out of it. She suddenly woke up and starts screaming at the officers- “YOU JUST WANT TO TAKE MY MONEY!!!!!”. Then she moved forward towards officer A****, so I immediately put my entire body in there to block her from hitting him, etc. I start telling my wife “DO NOT MESS WITH THE POLICE. THEY WILL MESS YOU UP IF YOU DO NOT CALM DOWN NOW. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME? THEY WILL MESS YOU UP BAD.”
My wife wobbled away on her own, which is good. I figured if she was capable of walking then she doesn’t have a concussion. I packed up my stuff (no voucher needed) and got into the van where I was cuffed from behind. Giggity.
I’m looking around the van I’ve walked into: Standard Police van with 3 sets of seats set up in rows. Row #1 was equipment. Row #2 had 3 Chinese ladies the oldest (Pee Pee, who was maybe 70) kept saying “Pee Pee” over and over while being mocked by the idiotic bulldog cop in the passenger seat who kept taunting her with “Yea, yea, Pee Pee”. The driver, who looked like JayZ with a badge, didn’t mix it up with us and kept calling his bulldog friend a moron or something like that. As I made my way to the last row where the 4 Chinamen were sitting, one of them winks at me as they cuff me. I was wearing a black newsboy cap and a pair of KD shades tinted blue. Facial stubble and I’m in good shape- I can take care of myself. I stopped and stared at this mother****** for 2 minutes and I didn’t hear peep one from him the entire time.
I was cuffed sitting next to 4 Chinamen listening to Pee Pee all the way to the precinct. I started laughing. I shit you not- this was Grade A Comedy to me. After all the crazy things I’ve done in my life- all the illegal shit I did- all the drugs, debauchery, driving through Albany streets in a blizzard while peaking on 1/4oz of shrooms… after all that stuff (and a whole lot more) what do I get pinched for? BUTTONS!
I got out of the van and we lined up in the main area. 8 of us- 3 women (Pee Pee) still yapping away, and 5 guys. All side-by-side. FYI: Cops do like donuts. They LOVE them. They had a huge box of D&D munchkins and a lot of other assorted carb filled sweetness. I only noticed because it was now 2PM and I hadn’t eaten anything all day. The officers that processed us were not the arresting officers. It was JayZ from the van. He and the idiot bulldog Pee Pee mocking man start going through our pockets one by one. Pee Pee? Pee Pee had $560 cash in tow. All of them had major money- $256 here, $150 there, $400 here. Me? $24 of my own money (with zero sales).
*****They took all of us to the cage. I was the last to be put in. No shoelaces? “Do you really think I’m going to hang myself over this Officer?”. “Sorry Mr. Gold, protocol”. OK. Protocol: I couldn’t keep my hat, but they let me keep my sunglasses (which I wore the entire time), my watch, my skull bracelet, my dogtags on a 16″ beaded chain around my neck AND I still had my Angry Bee Button pinned to my shirt. So, IF I was a psycho, I could have stabbed someone in the neck with the stem of the glasses, or just fucked up several people in the cage with the pin. I’m giving the cops an A+ for civility, but an F- for thoroughness. It was good to have my sneaks on (sans laces) and it was good to have a watch. The cage was a 6’x15′ cage with a steel face, so we could look at their computer setup and see our valuables. I immediately noticed the smell. Blood, piss, feces and vomit, all mixed together and it smelled like it had been brewing and stewing over time. That smell goes away in the 2nd hour, btw.
The next 5+ hours were filled with laughter, and good conversation with the oldest of the guys. We talked about family, how he came to America with hopes and dreams… real life, people. Stuff you don’t get to think about on a daily. This was a good hardworking guy. Daughter Back in China practicing medicine. Unfortunately he was diabetic and he had no medicine on him. He was worried. He was doubly worried when his prints came back from Albany and there was a warrant out for his arrest. He missed a court appearance back in 2013 (more on the legal process later). He wasn’t going home that night.
Bathroom break. Remember the worst toilet in Scotland? Good. They ripped that off from this cell which had the oldest sink and toilet I’ve ever seen. Chipped, rusted and cracked porcelain with no toilet seat next to a concrete slab for a bed. “F***” I thought. This was where the diabetic guy was going to spend his evening. One of the cops apologized to me for the cell. I told him not to worry- that I visited my Dad in a few cells like that in the 70’s. I then offered to him that my Dad is 11 years clean and sober and everything is cool with him. The cop was glad to hear that.
I got my prints taken by my arresting officer A****. He said he was worried about my wife. I’m thinking “Yea, if you’re so worried about her, then cut the BS and let me go, because we both know my arrest isn’t legal” (more on that later). I told him she’s German. They are built like shtahl. I asked him if he was married. He just got married in august. They honeymooned in the Mediterranean. He loved Venice and said I should go someday. I told him my wife and her family used to vacation there growing up. He seemed was a good guy. He didn’t have that storm-trooper attitude the others seemed to have. He was college educated. Smart. Good at conversation and expressing himself. The only terrible thing about him was that he clearly didn’t understand the law he was sworn to enforce. That’s a big problem. Buttons aren’t “useful”, nor is that term “useful” written or displayed on any of the NYC.gov vendor info pages.
Mugshots: I started laughing. A**** asks why? I said “My Dad is going to be proud”.
They arrested a few really angry Muslims, one at a time. They arrested one, he would give a name and 20 minutes later another guy was arrested and thrown in our cage. Then he gives a name…
The last guy to be brought in was a kid. Maybe 23. Decent shoes, clean chinos and those over-sized plaid patterned shirts you get at Kohl’s or some other low level store. He nodded and smiled when he came in. Turns out he was busted for smoking weed on the street, was still super high and that’s why he was so friendly. I said “no way!!!!- they are supposed to just give you a ticket, right?”. The kid had no ID on him. They had to bring him in. I told him “I’m jealous, bro… at least your stoned!”. He smiled and went to bed.
I was released me at 7:30 PM. I was looking at the vending machine. I was so hungry. The arresting officer walked me to the van and said “Thank you Mr. Gold”. I looked at him and said “you didn’t really think I was the kind of guy to mix it up with you guys and make things harder, did you?”. He smiled. He knew. I was raised right. But he opened a can of worms with this arrest.
My court date was set for Nov. 5th. I met with my free lawyer and told her the entire story as above. She said she would ask for an ACD which would effectively get the charge dismissed after a 6 month period in which I can’t get arrested for any more felonies, which shouldn’t be a problem since all I do are publish and draw comix.
The Judge arrives and starts calling cases. One after the other. Everyone seemed so young and stupid. Mostly breaking and entering, graffiti and drug offences. Without exception, they all walked. I’m feeling pretty good that my arrest for selling 1″ round buttons with my artwork on them would be tossed. Not a chance in hell. My ACD was denied for reasons unknown (probably because of the “big money” influence behind the arrest). They set up another day in court- that’s right! I’m due back January 6th. Bail was waived and I was free to go.
I go home and I immediately emailed my attorney. I told her more details about the day I was arrested- about the cop really pushing hard for a button sale. Weeks went by and I finally heard from her. She spoke to the ADA and they will now accept an ACD.
As an artist I’m happy things will work out. I’ve got great material for a comicbook which is being worked on as we speak, but as a tax payer I’m PISSED. The arresting officer busted me for no reason and wasted, literally, tens of thousands of dollars that could have been put to better use arresting and processing rapists, murderers, bankers and other assorted idiots.
FYI: New York State is the most expensive state in the country to process a criminal. In 2013, the City’s Annual Cost Per Inmate averaged $60,000. That’s just to house, cloth and feed and doesn’t include court costs nor the salaries and processing fees needed to push things through the legal system. So lets figure my costs hover somewhere between $25-50K: No food, no overnight stay, etc. Just 6 hours of jail time, fingerprinting, paperwork plus 3 court hearings. As a NY tax-payer, we should all be outraged.
I’ll keep you guys posted and give you updates after my Jan. court date. In the meantime, enjoy the posters, buttons and remember: #FREETHEBEE
Your Humble Narrator, Drew (Fuzzy Poet/soul Kitchen Press)