John Ajilo, known affectionately as the “Dancing is Happiness guy,” wound up singing the blues last week after being arrested for playing music in the subway to passing commuters.
Ajilo had been playing his saxophone in intervals inside the 34th Street Herald Square subway station for half a decade without incident until June 23. With his instrument in hand and a host of dancing electronic animals surrounding him, Ajilo’s night was unfolding like any other before five NYPD officers approached him at 10:30 pm.
Encircling the musician, the officers demanded Ajilo end his busking. During the incident caught on video, Ajilo could be seen protesting, stating: “I am not committing any crime!”
The video swiftly becomes difficult to watch as the cops begin to physically restrain the distressed music man, tearing his saxophone away and pressing his body beside a railing while the group wrestles. Ajilo repeatedly pleads for help as the officers cuff him.
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The video — which has made the rounds over social media — has sparked outrage from New Yorkers over what many are calling an unnecessary arrest on city culture. Comments on the video include “They sent five officers for this?” and “I can’t believe this, I am crying for you beautiful artist.”
According to the NYPD, the police department received multiple complaints from the MTA regarding the jazz player who they believed to be obstructing pedestrian traffic. They also state that Ajilo was given multiple warnings to leave the subway. Police say responding officers also attempted to ascertain identification from the musician, which he refused to present. It was only after exhausting all options, the NYPD say a sergeant opted to take Ajilo into custody. Police added that Ajilo was issued summonses at the Transit District and released with all his property.
However, since the arrest, Ajilo issued a statement on his Instagram through which he claimed his instrument was damaged. his wrist was injured, and some of his items were missing.
“I was shut down and handcuffed and taken to the police station for performing in the same spot 34th Street Herald Square, I had been performing on and off for 5 years. The police always see me there and cheer me on. My wrist is injured from the tight handcuffs, am emotionally depressed, and my body hurts,” part of the statement read.
Ajilo also stated that his toy dancers were broken, and others were missing. Dancing is Happiness was set up in order to help provide for his family and autistic children. Ajilo has received a court appearance for July 13th.
Ajilo has since started a GoFundMe account, which he says will be used to pay for legal fees in addition to supplementing lost income. So far the account has garnered $41,000. The donation page can be found here.
In response to the summonses issued to Ajilo, MTA Chief Safety and Security Officer Pat Warren issued the following statement: “The MTA has rules of conduct that are for the safety of all riders and employees and are not optional. We appreciate the Mayor’s and police commissioner’s commitment to keeping New Yorkers safe by ensuring those rules are observed across the transit system.”