After shooting, NYC peddlers still hustle for cash

AP News
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Posted: Dec 14, 2009 8:13 AM

The hustle was already hard for aspiring rappers like Antoine and Kawan Tucker, who ask visitors in Times Square for cash donations for their self-produced CDs.

The hustle got even harder when one of their own was shot dead in a gunfight with a police officer around the block from where he hawked his rap demos.

The Tucker brothers are part of a tourist-driven industry of people who peddle fliers, CDs and souvenirs to visitors, sometimes using aggressive tactics to scam them. Police who step up enforcement when holiday tourists flood the city shot and killed Raymond Martinez on Thursday after they said he opened fire on them with a Mac-10 machine pistol.

Days after the shooting, the brothers tried setting up shop again on Broadway where Martinez had peddled, but police told them to take their business elsewhere.

Kawan Tucker said the Martinez shooting is hurting a hardworking group of people scrounging for a buck.

"They're treating everyone like we're all one person," said Tucker, who performs under the name King Tuck and was wearing a black beanie with the words "I am king" embroidered on the side. "I don't understand what we're doing wrong."

A plainclothes officer shot Martinez, 25, in the passenger pickup area of the landmark Marriott Marquis Hotel after the officer asked the aspiring rapper for the tax stamp required for street hawkers to sell legally. Police say Martinez fled, firing at the officers with a stolen machine pistol before he was shot to death.

Police said Martinez ran a scam in which he would ask a tourist his or her name, put the name on one of his CDs and then demand payment.

"For the most part, they were fairly intimidating," said Josiah Deandrea, who was distributing fliers down the street near the scene on Friday for a comedy club. He said he knew Martinez.

But Antoine Tucker and other vendors say he didn't represent the vast number of street hustlers and promoters who work the open plazas and sidewalks around Times Square, passing out discounted show tickets, souvenirs and knockoff goods and offering bus tours of the city. Among them are aspiring actors, people trying to make extra cash for the holidays, immigrants and homeless New Yorkers who log long hours in all weather, including bone-chilling cold on Friday.

Anyone walking through Times Square would notice them, standing like sentries at strategic spots, holding out handfuls of fliers or walking around with clipboards. Bus tour promoters in red jackets unfold maps for visitors.

People wearing sandwich boards often shill for Broadway musicals, and some dress in costume to echo the productions they are promoting _ on Friday, there were at least two young women dressed in costumes inspired by Carrie Fisher's landmark role in "Star Wars." Fisher's autobiographical "Wishful Drinking" is on Broadway.

Louise Torrisi, who was selling spa tickets in Times Square a few years back when she met Martinez, said the few sellers who intimidate tourists into illegal sales "make it very hard for someone doing something honest."

More than 3,000 vendors have licenses that entitle them to sell their wares on the street; city officials say they can't be sure how many others are illegally hawking wares on street corners, subways and outside Broadway theaters.

Police Capt. Edward Winski said this week that his Manhattan precinct, which covers Times Square, made 400 arrests this year on charges of illegal peddling. Most involved the sale of counterfeit goods, and others were cited for failing to possess the tax stamp needed to sell.

Torrisi said Martinez used to introduce himself by saying "put some season on it" and said she didn't see the tactics police described.

"He was always kind and warm, and I would never perceive him as someone involved in negativity," she said. She added, "I don't justify the gun by any means."

Antoine Tucker, who was raised in Brooklyn and performs under the name Jus Write, said he knew Martinez, and he called the rapper's actions "mind-boggling."

Unlike Martinez, Tucker, 27, has a tax stamp to sell the CDs of his group, known both as Da Boulevard Boyz and the Blood Brothers.

He says he can aggressively promote his own work but gets respect for his hustle and the simple refrain, "Can you help us out with a donation?"

"No one knows us. It's hard to get our work out there," he said. "I'm hoping I get a break."

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Associated Press writer Colleen Long in New York contributed to this report.