New York City is considering creating “specific zones” for costumed characters who work for tips in Times Square. The reason for enacting such legislation? Safety or at least the “safety” of NYC’s reputation from aggressive panhandlers. Via the AP:
The bill comes after scores of complaints in recent years over aggressive panhandling behavior, primarily from the costumed characters pushing onlookers for tips.
In the most recent incident, a man in a Spider-Man costume was accused of fighting with a tourist over a tip this past weekend, and was arrested on an assault charge. Other incidents in the past couple of years include another Spider-Man figure in the same area punching a police officer trying to prevent aggressive solicitation, and a man dressed as Cookie Monster attacking a 2-year-old child whose parents didn’t offer up a tip.
“Come to New York, duke it out with a superhero! Is that really what we want to be known for?” said Councilmember Daniel Garodnick, one of the bill’s sponsors, at an event in support of it on Monday.
To answer Garodnick’s question: No. But at the same time is it really the function of government to say what people can do on a public sidewalk? This was something the city of Dallas learned in 2014 when it passed, then later repealed, a ban on protests near roadways. The city wanted to keep demonstrators (whether they be leftists claiming George W. Bush should be arrested on war crimes or conservatives and libertarians wanting to promote open carry) about 75 feet away from bridges and highways over fears they distracted drivers. The activists believed the ordinance was too broad. Via The Dallas Morning News:
Essentially, says [attorney Bruce] Anton, the city code says “people can’t walk up and down the sidewalk in protest. Sidewalks are the ultimate public forum. That’s quintessentially where you can exercise your constitutional rights. We ask the ordinance be declared void as overly broad. There’s no precedent for prohibiting protest on the sidewalks. So we’re asking the federal court to declare that void so that people can continue to hold these protests on the sidewalks in and around some of these major arenas in Dallas.”
New York City is trying to do the exact same thing. They’re trying to basically create “free speech zones” to where people can demonstrate (or in this case, ply for cash). But CBS New York reports NYC wants to make sure it the riffraff don’t start running the asylum.
Complaints over aggressive costumed characters, panhandling and displays that are less than family friendly spurred the city to create a Times Square Task Force, focused on reducing what the de Blasio administration called “nuisance quality of life issues.”
According to the Alliance, the non-profit that works to improve and promote Times Square, 61 percent of Times Square employees reported having a negative encounter with the characters while 51 percent of those people say the interaction made them feel unsafe.
I completely understand the desire to keep “the streets clean,” but this is going a bit too far. It’s definitely annoying to have to dodge performers like a Ales Hemsky deking goalies, but the fact is these regulations are anti-freedom (something The Naked Cowboy actually admitted). If the characters were going into stores or restaurants to solicit money, that’d be one thing, but they’re on a public square which is open to everyone. This doesn’t excuse assault on anyone, but if it’s really a select few making it a problem for the rest, then maybe it’s better to go after the ones breaking current laws instead of creating a whole new law. New York City is giving in to the notion it’s up to the government to make sure people have a “safe space” instead of going for individual responsibility.
There’s another angle people aren’t thinking about. These regulations actually allow Times Square performers to shirk the responsibility of having to police their own. If the performers were willing to say to bad actors, “Hey, back down,” or “Look, you’re giving us a bad reputation,” then maybe others would be willing to change tactics and not be so aggressive. Yes, it’d probably look weird to see a whole gaggle of costume wearers debate the merits of how to earn money, but maybe that’s the right way to go. It’s certainly the harder road, but it beats limiting everyone else’s freedom just so tourists can “feel safe.”