Chinatown Subway Party: What Comes Next?

Published on: June 26th, 2013 | Last updated: September 2, 2013 Written by:

Chinatown tunnel in 2003

Thus past weekend, the legendary Jeff Stark organized a party that was held in the Chinatown segment if the second avenue subway. The NYPD is likely to arrest him and potentially all guests to this event in the coming days, months and even years, depending of course on how bored and desperate they are to make arrests and maintain appearances.

The NYPD is likely to arrest him and potentially all guests to this event in the coming days, months and even years.

I will go ahead with this disclaimer: We had absolutely nothing to do with this party, other than a vague familiarity with those who threw it. I’ve never even met Jeff Stark (so far as I recall).

I usually cheer on events such as this one: the reclaiming of an abandoned space for the purpose of putting a little fun back into NYC is a noble gesture.

In this case though, I will admit to being conflicted. That conflicted mindset stems from a familiarity with how hard line the MTA can be when it comes to ‘big news stories’ that make them look bad. It just isn’t a good idea to fuck with them that much.

A rumor went around that a 20 buck entry fee was charged. With around 150 people in attendance, that would be a 3000 payday. Reportedly this money went to the performers – which I do hope happened. Traditionally speaking, performers at events like this are usually the ones that get arrested on the scene – something that happened to members of the Hungry Marching Band too many times years ago. I wasn’t there so I don’t know how many performers there were, though I would assume a great many, making that amount a low payout per performer.

3000 bucks sadly won’t cover anyones potential legal bills.

You see, the use of MTA property, within an arguably ‘terror target sensitive area’, was guaranteed to piss off the authorities. The MTA has already stated they are not pleased and would love to press charges.

Unfortunately for Stark, the NYPD has a long memory and a no nonsense reputation to maintain. They may have ‘gotten away’ with the party at the time of the event, but this is no fun NYC. The NYPD is fueled by quotas and overtime pay. If they get crazy and go after guests, and 150 people get warrants, that’s a lot of OT for a bunch of officers.

It is likely that each guest of this event is guilty of criminal trespass. They entered a sealed location willingly. Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor. There is the very good chance their charges would be dropped to a simple trespass charge ( which is a “violation” that usually results in nothing more than a 50 dollar fine or ACD), though recent cases show the higher charge could be placed.

During the transit strike in 2005, explorers were caught and charged criminal trespass due to the fact that they had to somehow get inside the locked up subway system. If they went in a tunnel and got busted on a regular day, chances are they would have only gotten a trespass charge, or a MTA rule violation ticket with a hundred buck fine.

Just two years ago, James Stafford, 22, of Connecticut, and Brice Farrell, 25, of Maryland, were charged with felony counts of reckless endangerment for climbing the Williamsberg bridge (I believe the felony charges were later dropped).

Obtaining the guest list is likely as simple as a warrant to view all of Starks emails.

Obtaining the guest list is likely as simple as a warrant to view all of Starks emails. The NSA and his ISP will have records of those. If ticket payments were made online, guests bank or credit card accounts can be linked directly. Published photos can be used for identification. Along with surveillance cameras and potentially photographs confiscated off Tod Seelie’s hard drives.

The email trail could be a dead end though if precautions such as a proxy and dummy email accounts were used. If performers were paid “pass the hat” style with cash, there is no trail there either. I’m pretty confident strong methodology was used to limit these potential risks, but you never know what data the government has these days.

You say 200 people are too many to bother arresting? Scale means nothing to the NYPD. They arrested 700 during OWS, and 1900 during RNC in 2004. The NYPD doesn’t care about the constitutionality of such arrests either.

Stark could face some serious charges. 200 felony counts of endangering others? If the powers that be decide to prosecute, look for some vividly imagined charges that will be significantly more intense than anyone can imagine for the mere crime of throwing a party. Maybe they will be thrown out in court, maybe not. It’s not the type of gamble I’d want to take – if only because as much as I love my lawyer, I don’t want to have to pay the big fees it takes to get out of crazy charges under piles if evidence.

Some may think that hey, if he isn’t arrested soon, all is cool. Right?

Wrong. Statue of limitations on felony counts is 7 years. 4 for misdemeanors. Very recently, someone I know was arrested and accused of a crime from 3 years ago. They searched this persons home and took their computers. Personally I hope this person wins and sues for wrongful arrest.

Another example is MUL crew. They were rounded up long after doing the whole train that put them on the MTA/NYPD radar. After a year in jail, Utah and Ether broke parole and fled the country to avoid further persecution.

So was it worth it?

I have no idea. I wasn’t there. All I can tell you is that I would not have pulled such a stunt within NYC.

The above potential legal challenges for those that took part is pure speculation. I do hope none of it comes to pass, and all those who went are not subject to a taxpayer waste of cash rounding up a load of people who’s only real crime was seeking out a uniquely ‘New York’ experience.

I don’t believe that heavy handed law enforcement is smart for the city overall.

I don’t believe that heavy handed law enforcement is smart for the city overall. Clearly there are many, many people interested in seeing spaces such as this. The MTA transit museum used to make some good money off giving tours of places such as this. They could charge admission.

The same goes for The Underbelly Project: the MTA could install some lighting and host special events there. Charge people 50 bucks to get in. People will come. Solicit new art installations and creative temporary reuses of these abandoned spaces. The best way to keep trespassers out of any location is to not abandoned it in the first place. (Yes I have heard the original art was itself vandalized, though I suspect artists would restore those works if permitted to).

Recently the MTA has permitted Dan Barasch to move forward with presenting a vision for the ‘lowline” park. The lowline could prove to be a template for creative reuse of other abandoned transit infrastructure. Not many disused portions of the subway system would lend themselves to this sort of reuse, but the chinatown Second Ave section and ‘Underbelly’ are exceptions that should be looked at.

It wasn’t all that long ago (around 9 years by my watch) that I lead a protest against the MTA’s efforts to ban photography within the subway system. The ban never took place, and today the MTA hosts an amazing Flickr stream. Logic won that day. Will it win a potential battle for creative reuse of these spaces?

Logic won that day. Will it win a potential battle for creative reuse of these spaces?

This will take work of course – it takes a lot more work to build something with permission than to throw an illegal party – but if not now, when? And if not us (NYCs artists and creative types) then who? Deep pocket corporations seeking a unique space to market more bullshit to us? I’m sure there are bright minds out there with ideas. Comment below. I’ll help in any way I can. Others will too. Lets get started on this – seriously.

What is really at stake with these spaces is a battle for NYC’s soul. Do we want to keep everything locked up in a pathological cat and mouse game, or do we want to open them up to creativity and imagination? Do we want every space in this town sold to the highest bidder, or can we create something different?

NYC is one of the most creative, amazing cities in the world. I was born right here (on the lower east side even) and never left, because it never ceases to surprise and occasionally delight me. Here is to hoping this party opens a door that leads us all towards a path of delight and mutual wins that address the concerns of all involved.

4 responses to “Chinatown Subway Party: What Comes Next?”

  1. Gerv says:

    I don’t know what the hell they were thinking, but I’m sure it was fun. In the end is it worth it? Time will tell. Great write up, well thought out. Cheers.

    Gerv-

  2. yaggy says:

    I can’t see them having anyone on staff that the powerful ones would even take seriously. If lowline happens, it will change things greatly.

  3. ww says:

    Well said! Let a third-party private company take on the logistics & liability and enjoy!

  4. nailhed says:

    public-private partnerships and conservancies are the way to go these days im thinking..

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  • About The Author

    Bad Guy Joe

    Bad Guy Joe
    Bad Guy Joe knows more about the NYC underground than anyone else on or below the surface of this planet. He has spent nearly 30 years sneaking into NYC's more forbidden locations. When not underground, he's probably bitching about politicians or building something digital. 
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