On a Sunday afternoon this month, Wu Yizhou, 64, tuned up his fiddle for the usual throngs of older fans who enjoy open-air performances of Cantonese opera on weekends at Columbus Park in Chinatown.
But before he could play a single note, Mr. Wu found himself with his face pressed against the pavement, bloodied and handcuffed at the hands of the police.
He was arrested on charges of disturbing the peace, using a speaker without a permit and resisting arrest.
The beginning of the struggle in the park is not shown on the video, which starts with Mr. Wu already in handcuffs and on the ground. It then shows an officer telling the encroaching crowd to step back. Voices can be heard yelling in Cantonese: “They’re beating him!”
Some witnesses said that Mr. Wu had disobeyed orders to leave the park. A police spokesman said the incident was under investigation.
Mr. Wu said the police were unnecessarily rough in apprehending him for a rarely enforced rule against amplification in the park.
“We don’t have any other purpose other than to make other people happy and promote our culture,” said Mr. Wu, who has been performing music in the park for four years. He said that when he was first approached by a police officer, the performance was just getting started and the speaker had not been turned on.
“For such a small speaker, this has become such a big deal,” he said.
He spent the night of his arrest in the Manhattan Detention Complex, a k a the Tombs, which happens to be across the street from the park. While a disorderly conduct charge was dropped, Mr. Wu still faces charges of making “unreasonable noise” in a city park and resisting arrest, the Manhattan district attorney’s office said.
His arrest has dramatically changed the popular weekend performances, in which performers display skills learned during childhood in China.
Under city regulations, performers are required to get two permits to play in the park — one for assembling and one for amplification — though it is unclear how rigorously the rules have been enforced.
Mr. Wu said that he had gotten the proper permits in the past, but that the assembly permit is only good for one performance a month and his group performs every week.
Since Mr. Wu’s arrest, the police no longer allow the use of amplifiers in the park, which participants say has effectively ruined the longtime performances, which attract hundreds of elderly residents. Many park goers and some opera performers complain that without amplification, the singers’ voices cannot be heard.
Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who represents the neighborhood, called the violent incident “disheartening on many levels,” and met with the police shortly after the incident.
Ms. Chin, who was born in Hong Kong, grew up listening to Cantonese opera and has even studied a few of the better-known arias.
Still, she said, she appreciated the need for rules. “It’s important for them to understand that there’s a process,” Ms. Chin said. “The park has to be shared by everybody.”
On Sunday, Mr. Wu returned to the park for the first time since his arrest. Some in his group played their instruments: the percussionist, the flute and guitar players performed in their usual spot near the northeast entrance of the park. But there was no vocal accompaniment, and Mr. Wu did not play his fiddle, a traditional Chinese instrument known as the erhu.
A dozen regulars who go to park to listen to the performances and, on occasion, to participate, sat on folding stools discussing the affect of the ban on amplification.
“With the Chinese opera, you use higher notes,” explained Jackie Yee, 52, who travels from New Jersey each weekend to listen to the performances and, on occasion, sings with the troupe. “The use of a microphone is absolutely necessary. Without it, the music is too overpowering.”
Chan Sine Yee, 54, a former professional Chinese opera singer who attended the Cantonese Opera Academy in Hong Kong, said she had been coming to the park for three years. She mentors the performers and also sings with them.
Ms. Chan said their voices were too strained to attempt any more singing that weekend. They went to the park the day before, singing only a few arias before calling it quits.
“The seniors are the most affected,” Ms Chan said. “When we sing, it’s absolutely packed. For them it’s more than recreation — it’s their only source of pleasure.”
Performers and their audience make the pilgrimage to Columbus Park every weekend, from noon until the early evening. Some come from Long Island and New Jersey.
But not everyone is a fan.
Karlyn Chan, 54, who lives just half a block away from where the various troupes perform in the park, says he keeps the complaint number for the city’s Parks Department handy in his cellphone.
“I’m totally against it,” said Mr. Chan, who surveyed the perimeter of the park while walking his dog. “The noise is just incredible, you have five groups competing to see who’s louder.”
Anthony Maruffi, 45, who operates a small parking lot across Bayard Street on the north side of the park, said: “If they want to do it, they can turn it down a bit — you don’t need the whole neighborhood to hear it.”
“If I can’t smoke in the park, they can’t play with mics in the park,” he added. “That sounds fair to me.”