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San Diego street performers claim police harassment

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SAN DIEGO – Painted silver head to toe, the San Diego Silver Man has been entertaining tourists and locals for almost fifteen years in America’s Finest City.

“I’m an actor, musician by trade,” said Dashiell MacTavish, also known as the San Diego Silver Man.

In recent years, that career has become a bit tarnished, MacTavish said. As evidence, he showed Fox 5 a video of San Diego police officers arresting him outside Horton Plaza.

“I was just performing there. I asked, 'What did I do?' They just threw me on the ground and arrested me," he said.

The police ticketed him for solicitation, he said.

At the Embacadero, William J. Dorsett, also known as the San Diego Rose Man, shared similar stories.

“Every time I go out and try to do my art, somewhere a cop will show up and say, 'You can’t do that,'” said Dorsett.

The performers have started a Facebook to address the issue.

“I hear all the time, 'What do I do? I’ve been harassed all the time by police. They ran me out of this spot,'” Dorsett said.

Chris Morris is a civil rights attorney and the former Head of the Criminal Division under former City Attorney Mike Aguirre. Fox 5 showed him the video of police confronting street artists. He said police appear to be violating the performers' rights.

“From the video you can clearly see this is a public forum,” Morris said. “Any sort of speech whether it be through music, dancing, or movement, is still protected activity and is still protective speech."

He said the performers are protected by the First and 14th Amendments.

The San Diego Police Department told Fox 5 it does not cite for performing on the street as there is no law against such activity. There are occasions, however, when the conduct of citizens in a public place violates the law.

“I’m not breaking any laws,” said MacTavish. “I’m just performing. I’m just an artist.”

Morris said if any laws being broken, it’s the violation of his constitutional rights.

“My advice to the police department in this area is  back way off,” said Morris. “To me, this is a reach, and again you’re running afoul of various First Amendment protections."


  • William Joey Dorsett

    This article is wonderful, and it is great to finally shine a light on this subject, Thanks James and Sharon for doing this story.. :) if anyone would like to learn more about busking laws,, search us busking laws on google… To those of you who have watched this article and want to know where to go to get some of my art, I am in the harbor, on north harbor drive and ash street, in front of anthony’s fish grotto.

  • Richard

    The city doesn’t want pan handlers soliciting from people in the Gaslamp. If it’s such an “Art” go do it over in Point Loma or somewhere else! People are over their in Point Loma morning noon and night doing it! And I’m sure the police asked you NOT to be there several times but you chose to ignore them! So this is what you get!

  • Robert Burns

    The police regularly misrepresent about this and the supervisors often are unaware of what subordinate rogues are doing. They enforce all noise complaints against musicians, even crackpot ones like many of those from Vince Adame in O.B., but none against barking dogs. Police are untrained to follow even the nonconstitutional analysis of noise complaints, i.e., for unreasonableness of sound. They fabricate offenses, like “loitering within 14″ of a bus bench” and performing without a (nonexistent) permit). An harpist was cited illegally. An acoustic jazz quintet was cited illegally. The problem is endemic but comes and goes like menses.

  • SoCalMediaSurfer-MiccilinaPiraino

    I have seen both of these buskers at different parts of the city at different times, and at NO TIME, did either of them “solicit” money or bother people in any way. I have enjoyed the man in silver for quite a few years, he is good at what he does and the man making the roses, he is just there, making roses, he does not openly ask for anything, if you want it, you take it and then you give him what you feel is fair for what he has made, NO PROBLEMS. LEAVE THEM ALONE, They are not the ones bothering people, seems the police have THAT covered.

  • Stacey Murray

    We are sooo glad you are covering this story. It’s not just the San Diego police it’s also the Harbor Police. They consistently selectively enforce made up artisan rules and we have video, photographic and eye witness documentation. It is so amazingly outrageous the extremes they have taken against local artist. Saadiq Murray “The Copper Man” @ The Embarcadero is an incredible metal artist . Whose work has been praised all of the world and even by the Port Commission has been repeatedly targeted. His art confiscated, false ticketed and even arrested. While others who are selling obviously manfactured goods or things that are not allowed are not bothered. I will add that he is a black man and the others are not. Saadiq is in noway the kind to use the race card, he would say it’s because they see that he is actually an artist who can achieve something and the others aren’t . That’s why he’s singled out. But whatever the reason it is targeted and extremely calculating. In fact the last time his art was confiscated improperly and when they returned it, most was stolen. The port told them to reimburse Saadiq for his art after he spoke at a port meeting and presented the evidence. That was approximately 2years ago and he is yet to be reimbursed. It was a devastation to his progress to say the least. The Port Commission was shocked when they saw the police and some port official saying his pieces weren’t art. In fact, one of the said in an open port meeting that “he didn’t know where they went to college but where he went to Law School that is most unequivocally art. Even when they changed the code he complied with his art and some still go out of their way to make issues. What I’ve shared is only small bit of the repeated artisan harassment that’s been suffered. Please feel free to contact us for our documentation. It is our Great hope desire that you dig deeper into this story. There are people who come to find him for his art from all over the world, presently his art has reached over 90 countries. Tourists and conventioners search him out each year they come to San Diego. This is a real travesty how they treat those who help create the San Diego experience.

  • Robert Burns

    Wow, I just saw the video. I only notice the print before. While nothing is shown before the tackle, this performer has NO reputation for hassling police. I’ll bite my tongue for now, but the police need to be monitored around buskers and if they are needlessly tackling them they should spend time in the M.C.C. for Federal Civil RIghts crimes.

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