Reasonable Accommodation | Letters | Chicago Reader

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Reasonable Accommodation

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To the editor:

Neal Pollack did an excellent job in describing the ridiculous situation involving the blind street musician Gary Jones and the CTA president Frank Kruesi [May 14]. It's good to know that a political mercenary who clearly never missed a meal in his life has the time to pursue peanut salespersons, small vendors, and musicians while the real problems on the CTA, like maintenance, the resultant scheduling problems, and general comfort on the system, go unaddressed. While it takes 45 minutes to get two and a half miles across town on the Diversey bus in this city (while I can ride my bicycle in 20), trains and buses are jammed, and janitorial services get neglected, this character has himself or another supervisor named Rich harassing people who are simply plying a trade or trying to make a few bucks.

A point that I think was underemphasized is that the district court in New York City has declared that the musicians in that city have a First Amendment right to perform in the subways. The point is that the New York transit system had to make reasonable accommodation for people to exercise their First Amendment rights. As was mentioned, people playing acoustic instruments in New York City can play anywhere in the system without a permit. People playing amplified instruments must play in the large areas upstairs, as I understand it. Since Chicago does not have large areas upstairs, other accommodations would have to be made, but clearly the "starvation zones" are not reasonable accommodation. The real contradiction in the "starvation zone" regime is that in order to be heard from those zones, one must be amplified or be very loud in some other way. Even then, it is difficult to get people to walk over and listen, much less demonstrate their approval by tipping (while musicians need money, the tips are also reassurance that people appreciate the performance).

In my bovine scatological reference to the Daley administration's activities since they took over the city government, it was not clear that the CTA and the city pretended to negotiate with the musicians in 1990. The musicians told the city that we would even buy meters for the police to measure our volume so that it could technically be kept under 80 decibels. Like other public hearings that the CTA has held, it made no difference what we (or the public) said about the situation at hand, the CTA was going to do what it wanted anyway (we've seen this with fare increases and cutbacks time and time again). While the ACLU did help at first, they have refused to help the musicians since then. They say "We have done enough." Enough to them apparently involves leaving the musicians still deprived of their First Amendment rights. Clearly, if the CTA attempted to prosecute Mr. Jones based on the fact that the CTA is government subsidized, then one does not need a law degree to see that people on CTA "property" are entitled to constitutional protections (the use of public facilities for religious studies is the most well-known instance of how this principle has been applied).

Mayor Daley apparently has a real mental problem with the idea of people doing things that are unusual. Unless a musician has corporate or other monetary backing, the Daley administration does not deem their entry into a market in which they must prove their skills and entertainment value to be legitimate. So much for the "free market."

No one to my knowledge has ever been injured while listening to music on the platform. People have been hurt financially and psychically by the deficiencies of services on the CTA while Mr. Kruesi is in court picking on starving artists and small-time vendors.

Dennis Dixon

Scholars, Artists, and Writers for Social Justice

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