By Brandon Summers | March 3, 2020
I started street performing in 2009. I knew nothing about busking then and I certainly wasn’t aware that there would legal consequences for performing music in public, on a sidewalk. Whether you believe the act of busking to be panhandling or not, playing violin on a public sidewalk is objectively harmless in terms of public safety. It is also, undoubtedly, an act that is undeserving of criminal penalties. But here we are some 10 years later and I have a criminal record— a criminal record that includes 2 arrests. While I have no convictions for the “crimes” I’ve been prosecuted for, I still have 7 misdemeanor citations that are public record.
On November 24, 2019, I performed violin acoustically on a pedestrian bridge between Fashion Show Mall and Wynn. Roughly 30 minutes into playing, 2 officers on bikes approached me and asked me to move along. I complied with their order to vacate the bridge, but not unless I was cited first. I understand this request sounds strange, but it is important that these incidents are documented so that police can be held (somewhat) accountable for their tyrannical, immoral, and often illegal behavior. Cops would much rather have citizens comply with their every verbal command instead of being inconvenienced by paperwork. So I left the bridge with my “obstructive use of public sidewalk” citation in hand, setting the process of court in motion. I was summoned to appear in Community Impact Court in December 2019 and again in January 2020 (since CIC court was “dark” in December). My appearance in January was almost rescheduled once more because the community public defender was not present, and judge Rebecca Kern was moving cases to February as a result. I informed the judge that I would like to proceed without counsel; so I pleaded not guilty, and demanded that my case be reassigned to the Regional Justice Center (the real court)— and it was. For case number 19CC0484132, my bench trial date was set for March 23, 2020.
Weeks later, I noticed that the bench trial was canceled and court appearance vacated. Case closed. I win, right? Well, no. Without being notified, an entirely new criminal case, case number 20T00883 (lacking the “CC” prefix that signifies Community Court), was opened and a bench trial date was set for March 23, 2020. I don’t know if this was done in good faith or not, but I’ve never had a case closed and then reopened. I’m not one to entertain conspiracies, so I added the new case to my calendar and got on with life as usual. Regardless of whether I am guilty of “obstructive use of sidewalk” or not, I find it ridiculous that the case won’t be resolved until 4 months after the initial charge. This will be my 4th bench trial on calendar to date. The previous bench trials never happened because the cases were dismissed at trial. While that is the best case scenario for me as the defendant, it also is indicative of how inefficient and wasteful our court system can be. It’s a problem that should not be ignored.
Update: My bench trial was rescheduled to May 27, 2020 due to the coronavirus/covid-19 pandemic. A summons for the new court date was issued on March 23, 2020 and mailed to my home address.
Brandon Summers is a violinist, street performer, and advocate for spontaneous, unlicensed performance in public spaces. Summers has been busking for over ten years and has performed for Ciroc Vodka, Hudson Jeans, Netflix, and many more. He is a graduate of Fort Valley State University where he majored in mathematics and holds BA in liberal studies.