A New York saxophonist known for entertaining subway riders with jazz and dancing mechatronic cats has amassed nearly $115,000 in donations after he was arrested for violating Mayor Eric Adams’ quality-of-life policies.
John Ajilo, also known as Jazz Ajilo, was arrested by six New York Police Department officers on June 23 after “multiple complaints” for Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers that he was “impeding pedestrian flow and utilizing a sound reproduction device,” law enforcement officials said.
In a video posted on Ajilo’s YouTube page, he tells officers that he “is not committing any crime” and that he’s just a musician.
The performer, who has nearly 82,000 followers on Instagram, is known as Dancing is Happiness on social media. He said he has been playing in the same spot at the 34th Herald Square station on and off for about five years.
An illustration of Ajilo is part of a poster-size ad along the walls of the subway cars.
“You have always brought the biggest smile to my soul and heart,” said one of the musician’s supporters, Julie Ondrako. “You are the beacon of light that should be shinning through and continue to do so.”
The full verbal exchange between Ajilo could not be heard on the video, but NYPD officials said Ajilo was asked to leave and refused to provide his identification when asked. The Black man started screaming for help when the group of officers swarmed him.
“What did I do wrong? I’m a musician…I’ve got four autistic children,” Ajilo yelled.
Ajilo attempted to pull away from the officers as they wrestled with him and pressed down his arms to handcuff him.
“Help me! Help me, someone. Someone, help me!” He yelled.
Some off-camera bystanders tell Ajilo, “don’t fight it” and “relax” as the officers lock the handcuffs. Ajilo continued to protest.
“Call my wife! I did nothing wrong.”
Musicians are allowed to perform in the subway system as long as they follow the Transit Rules of Conduct, MTA says.
They are prohibited from playing in certain areas of the station, especially places that would block the movement of passengers or any that are not generally open to the public. Performances cannot be 25 feet of station booth or 50 feet of an entrance to a Transit Authority Office, nor near construction. The rules also restrict sound levels.
Ajilo said he was issued four tickets and spent the night in jail.
“The police always see me there every time and they also cheers (sic) me on,” Ajilo said on his GoFundMe account.
A police spokesperson said Ajilo “was given multiple warnings to leave the location in which no enforcement action would be taken.”
A booth agent had reported that he was taking up “excessive space” and blocking the flow of passengers.
“The MTA has rules of conduct that are for the safety of all riders and employees and are not optional,” MTA chief safety and security officer Pat Warren said.
He was ticketed for disregarding MTA rules and regulations, panhandling in transit, impeding pedestrian flow and disorderly conduct, according reports.
“An NYPD sergeant responded and reiterated the same directives to the individual. After exhausting all options with the individual, he was placed into custody and removed to a police facility,” the police spokesperson said.
The musician said that his wrist was injured from the tight handcuffs. His saxophone was damaged, and the robotic dancers “were incomplete and broken too after they were released to me.”
I’m “emotionally depressed, and my body hurts,” Ajilo said.
The NYPD official did not comment on the broken items but confirm that “all of his property “was returned to him.
Ajilo asked his supporters to donate money to help with his court and attorney fees and lost income.
The mayor, who had vowed to bring order to the subway system, said the officers were enforcing the rules.
“That is not the place for disorder. That is not the place to do whatever you want to do as a passenger,” Adams said. “Transit has rules and my officers and your officers are going to do it in a professional and courteous manner.”
“So, I’m proud of those officers. They weren’t abusive. They didn’t yell at the person,” he said. “They took a long time to get to the point that now we have to take action.”