by Brandon Summers | July 13, 2018
I never imagined I would find myself in the back of a patrol car in handcuffs– Nor imagine having my mugshot taken, being fingerprinted, and eventually placed in an icy, crowded holding cell with a bunch of strangers. This outcome is only reserved for deserving criminals– thieves, murders, rapists, pedophiles, and drunk drivers. But 5 years ago, I was in this predicament. How did I get here?
The circumstances leading up to this moment were largely out of my control. Casinos, local politicians, and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) had been devising ways to purge the Las Vegas Strip of street performers for years (more on that later). I have some responsibility in this situation, but it is minimal. I got a ticket in April 2013 while street performing. I unwittingly missed my court date (June 13, 2013), and ended up with a warrant for my arrest. After going months without significant interaction with police, I assumed my ticket was dropped. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
Friday, July 13, 2013 was hot as usual. The summer heat in Las Vegas is merciless, so I played during the evening to avoid the sun. I started performing around 8pm and wrapped up my set around midnight. I was setup about 30 feet away from a McDonald’s near the intersection of Harmon and Las Vegas Blvd; and by that time the police were running their evening foot patrol, I was completely packed up– ready to go home. My friend “Nas”, a big dude from Philly who hung out with me most nights, was sitting to my right. He acted as defacto security and helped pass the time by making jokes and talking shit. I appreciated his presence and It was nice that we could look out for one another. What I didn’t know was that he had previous run-ins with the cops when I wasn’t around. He sold weed (allegedly), but I wasn’t aware of that considering he never did it in front of me. Once LVMPD’s foot patrol came in contact with us, an officer recognized “Nas” immediately. Rather than focus his efforts on him, the officer zeroed in on me. I assume that counting the night’s earnings in my bucket aroused the officer’s suspicion.
Once I realized a confrontation was imminent, I pulled out my phone and began recording. I had experience with police encounters, and I knew that capturing cellphone video was the only way to tell the whole story. I politely asked for the officer’s name, badge number, and the reason for the stop. He explained to me that “Nas” was a guy known to have narcotics and we looked suspicious. By then, he had already grabbed my tip bucket and was running his hands through the pile of bills. I was irritated, nervous, and defiant– ready to stand my ground; but I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking and the officer noticed.
“Why you shaking man? [Are] you nervous?” asked officer Smith #9643.
“Yeah, because you guys have guns, pepper spray, and tasers” I replied.
The rest of the stop was routine. One of Officer Smith’s wing-men ran my ID while he had me stand, and extend my arms to conduct a pat down for weapons. Officer Smith #9643 asked me a series of leading questions to see if I would self-incriminate. Once he realized that he didn’t have any evidence to continue his investigation, he tried to lighten the mood. I wasn’t amused. The whole experience was humiliating as usual, but it was over in less than four minutes. Smith #9643 made mention of an ordinance that he could have ticketed me for, but said he was going to cut me a break and let me go home. How benevolent.
Just as he was getting ready to move on, Officer Smith #9643 had me stand up once more for a pat down. That’s when he placed me in handcuffs and informed me of my bench warrant. I was going to jail– on the weekend. As Officer Smith escorted me to his patrol car he made the following remark:
“That’s what you get for fucking recording!”
I wasn’t expecting that, but I knew that police officers don’t like their authority being challenged; and in return are capable of retaliation— verbal and physical. I’d seen the YouTube videos (we all have) and experienced it in person during my time as a busker. Tonight my number was up. I sat in the patrol car with my hands and feet shackled for about 20 minutes until the vehicle lurched forward en route to the Clark County Detention Center.
This is wild. Criminalized for being a working musician. Vegas visitors love street performers. They love that the streets talk. They need to be arresting those dudes handing out porn on a card. Sad this happened to you.
This is business as usual for cities with a tourist draw (NYC, LA, Santa Monica, New Orleans, etc.) Local politicians, police departments, and business improvement districts (e.g. casinos) all conspire to make life hell for street performers. I’ll cover this on Pt. 3. It’s a bit complicated.
The dudes handing out the porn cards (usually Spanish-only-speaking Latinos) were at one time endlessly harassed by the LVMPD. The courts ruled that they have a constitutional right to be there. The same constitution that allows performers, costume characters, and artists to entertain the public allows the “porn-slappers” to be on the streets to.
I’m sad too. It’s especially sad that I know that the bail/court system continues to disproportionately hurt poor (especially black) people as we speak.