72-Year-Old Busker: Cops, Security Guards Beat Me

Felix Wilkins, who usually plays the flute outside Reading Terminal Market, says he was accosted by security guards and police recently. He plans to sue.

The Daily News’ Helen Urbinas on Thursday reports the tale of Felix Wilkins, a 72-year-old Philadelphia busker. If you work downtown East of Broad, you’ve probably seen him — he’s the old man in the suit who plays the flute with an orange crate near the Reading Terminal Market. And on April 9th, Wilkins says he was beaten by market security and Philadelphia police.

Wilkins, who studied at Panama’s Conservatory of Music and Brooklyn College and taught at the latter,  has a background in jazz but is happy to play anything. He was previously arrested at Rittenhouse Square by police in 2007, but won a $27,500 judgment from the city. As part of the settlement, then-police commissioner Sylvester Johnson had to issue a memo telling police “that the ability to play a musical instrument or sing in a public place and solicit funds are forms of expression that are protected by the First Amendment.”

Urbinas recaps Wilkins’s 2014 incident:

After hassling and accosting Wilkins on Jan. 19, security guards flagged down police officers driving by in a patrol wagon. When the cops put him in handcuffs, an officer kicked him on the ground. His flute was also damaged. Wilkins says he thought he was being arrested. But a few minutes later, the doors of the patrol wagon swung open and he was dropped off at LOVE Park.

“Stay here,” Wilkins says the cops told him. “You’ll make more money here anyway.”

He went to the hospital three days later, and says he was accosted by one of the same security guards last month. He played the “Star-Spangled Banner” “as loud as he could” in response. Wilkins plans to sue.