Busker’s Arrest In Baltimore Raises OC Issues

OCEAN CITY — A little more than a week after winning a preliminary injunction allowing him to practice his art in most areas on the Boardwalk in Ocean City, street performer Mark Chase tested the limits of the court’s ruling at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and soon found himself behind bars.

On Sept. 9, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of street performer Mark Chase on certain aspects of his civil suit filed against the town of Ocean City in June, issuing preliminary injunctions allowing him and other buskers to practice their arts and sell their wares on the Boardwalk and reversing the section of the newly adopted ordinance requiring registration for street performers. The judge, however, upheld a section of the ordinance prohibiting street performers on North Division Street citing safety reasons.

Perhaps buoyed by victory on the preliminary injunctions in the Ocean City case, Chase set up shop last Sunday afternoon at the Inner Harbor in the area of Light and Pratt streets, and when he was told he could not practice his art in the area without a permit, he was asked by Baltimore Police to leave. However, he did not comply and was arrested on a trespassing charge.

Chase said yesterday he was merely evoking his First Amendment right to free expression in a public place.

“The cop told me he wasn’t interested in my constitutional rights, he was only enforcing the law, which I thought was interesting,” he said. “I’m the kind of person who is not afraid to get arrested to protect my constitutional rights. I’m not going to run away with my tail between my legs.”

With the ruling on the preliminary injunction on Chase’s Ocean City case two weeks ago, a federal judge agreed the Ocean City Boardwalk is by all definitions a public place and therefore artists and street vendors are allowed to practice their arts without impediment and without pre-registering. Chase said yesterday the same principles should apply in Baltimore although the private-public issue is less clear.

“It’s pretty much identical to the issue in Ocean City, although it’s often unclear which areas are considered private property and which are considered public,” he said. “No one seems to know for certain which areas are and which aren’t in and around the Inner Harbor, which is why I ultimately got arrested for trespassing. When I explained to the cops I had just won a preliminary injunction against Ocean City, they didn’t want to hear it and I was arrested.”

Ocean City Solicitor Guy Ayres said this week there are obvious parallels between the two cases, although he wasn’t certain if Chase had set up on public or private property at the Inner Harbor.

“The issues are pretty much identical,” he said. “It’s a little more confusing up there because some areas are considered private property. If he was on private property, I don’t think the judge’s ruling on the Ocean City case would be binding. I really can’t believe it’s an arrestable offense up there. Here, it would just be a civil citation.”

Ayres said there was likely no coincidence between the timing of the judge’s ruling on the preliminary injunction in the Ocean City case and Chase’s arrest in Baltimore.

“I guess he’s trying to expand his 15 minutes of fame into 30 minutes,” he said.

However, Chase said yesterday he did not set up shop at the Inner Harbor with the intent of flaunting the judge’s recent ruling, nor did he intend to get arrested to make a point.

“Look, I’m not trying to make waves, I just want to paint, and I want to exercise my constitutional right to do so,” he said. “The judge’s ruling makes it clear I have the right to freedom of expression in a public place, but I guess freedom is never free. There always seems to be a price to pay.”