ANTHONY RILEY returned to sing in Rittenhouse Square yesterday for the first time since he spent the night in a city lockup for doing just that.

Only this time he and his band members had a permit.

And this time, they weren't just making music: They were making a point.

They were joined by dozens of supporters to protest a crackdown by police who've been issuing citations and threatening to arrest guitar-strummers and other musicians who've always been a fixture in the Square.

Insurance broker Craig Morrison was at the rally. He lives on the Square and said he's been coming there to play his guitar for "seven, eight years." On Monday, two cops told him to stop or they'd arrest him.

Temple University student Julian Root was there, too. He said he was strumming his guitar on the grass twice in recent weeks when police told him music wasn't allowed in the square.

Others have e-mailed me about similar incidents since I

reported Riley's arrest five weeks ago.

And police acknowledge that, at the behest of Rittenhouse Square residents who've complained, they're enforcing - for what must be the first time ever - a Fairmount Park regulation requiring that a permit be obtained for any musical "performance" in the park.

It's unbelievable: equating a musician playing for the joy of it to a musical production. Not to mention trying to silence the spontaneous music-making that's part of the fabric of an urban park.

"This is an embarrassment to the city," said Gretchen Gerhauser, a physical therapist from Northern Liberties who took the day off to attend the rally.

"I think they should be ashamed of themselves," she said as she waited in line to add her name to the nearly 600 signatures on the protest petition.

And don't you know, civil-affairs police showed up and demanded the musical rally stop until Drew Gillis, a member of the Stone Soup band with Riley, went home to get identification, since the permit was in his name.

What petty nonsense.

All it did was invite the crowd to go on singing - the National Anthem.

When Riley was arrested, I thought it was an aberration, a moment in which a weary cop clashed with a recalcitrant citizen and harshly overreacted.

But unfortunately, police have turned the intolerance of some overly territorial Square residents into policy.

Police spokesman Sgt. D.F. Pace said members of the Friends of Rittenhouse Square complained to police about the "nuisance" of the music.

"It was a matter of the community saying we'd appreciate it if you'd do something about musicians who are overrunning the park, most of whom are trying to solicit money for their bands.

"They want people to obey the law, and the law is you cannot put on a musical performance."

A spokeswoman for the Friends of Rittenhouse Square said the organization itself didn't file a complaint, but referred members and other residents who called the organization to the police.

Jennifer Reynolds said the organization does, however, support "police enforcement of all Fairmount Park regulations."

But the reality is, people have been playing music in the Square forever. The acclaimed Curtis Institute of Music is steps away and residents say the students often practice in the park.

"I've been coming here since I was less than 1 year old with my mother, and music has always been played in this park," said Liz Mednick, 50, who lives on the Square.

"Every major metropolitan city has street musicians," said Vera Kane, of the Northeast. "They make us feel good; they're part of the charm of the city."

Clearly the answer here, as a wise friend of mine who lives on the Square said, is BALANCE.

Shut down the music after 9 at night. Prohibit amplification. Ban solicitation of money. But don't silence the joyful sound of music because some residents mistakenly think the Square is their private property.

"You chose to live around the park, what did you think would happen?" said Cat Niallon, of Mount Airy.

"It's supposed to be a place of community, to bring people together. And music does that." *

E-mail porterj@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5850. For recent columns: