Times Square has become plagued with painted ladies — and men — accosting tourists and residents, but the New York Post reports that police have their hands tied from up on high. Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed for “designated activity zones” (DAZs) for street performers in Times Square to operate without harassing passers-by … or wearing clothes, for that matter. The most aggressive of the “desnudas,” as the body-painted performers are called, are illegal immigrants according to the Post, and their source within the NYPD claim that de Blasio wants them left alone because of their residency status.
Too bad the desnudas and costumed performers don’t provide a reciprocal courtesy:
Foul-mouthed desnudas, grabby Hulks and tourist-terrorizing gangs of Minnie Mice are still brazenly holding the Crossroads of the World hostage even amid a heavy presence of NYPD cops, who act oblivious to their disturbing antics.
At any given moment on two recent afternoons, only half of the two-dozen tip-mooching characters stayed behind the blue lines of Times Square’s “Designated Activity Zones,” or DAZs, the city-mandated areas created last year as their boundary for posing for photos and asking for tips.
Yet none of those who illegally strayed outside the zones were issued summonses by the half-dozen police patrolling the pedestrian plaza.
A law-enforcement source shrugged that the officers’ hands were tied since most of the costumed panhandlers are illegal — and under the de Blasio administration, it’s a no-no to go after them.
Both the desnudas and costumed characters have grown more aggressive, despite de Blasio’s attempts to limit them with the DAZs. Theoretically, the DAZs provided a brightly painted zone in which tourists who entered would understand that the performers would interact with them and aggressively seek tips. In practice, though, the rectangles allow tourists to take pictures without interaction, and the lack of enforcement allows performers to roam as freely as ever.
If the Post’s source is accurate, it would seem that de Blasio doesn’t want to provoke any challenges to his enthusiastic support for the Big Apple’s status as a sanctuary city. On Friday, de Blasio threatened to sue Attorney General Jeff Sessions to protect federal funds for New York City, grant money that is intended to reduce crime. One way to avoid the issue is to restrict the police from arresting illegal immigrants at all, which in this case means avoiding enforcement of de Blasio’s own program for allowing the desnudas and other street performers to operate in Times Square. That sets up a series of perverse incentives that wind up either penalizing legal residents and citizens through selective enforcement, or results in no enforcement at all.
The problem of aggressive street performers is hardly singular to Times Square. Travelers to Rome will inevitably visit the Colosseum, and inevitably cross paths with the “gladiators” who will demand their tribute in euros to anyone who snaps a picture of them. Police in Rome take a somewhat laissez-faire approach to them as long as they don’t harass tourists too much, but every once in a while crack down on them, which in one case led to questions of whether the police were targeting Jews, or whether it was being run by the Mafia.
The Colosseum will attract visitors no matter what, thanks to its rich history. Times Square’s tourist appeal will not endure nearly as well if tourists get routinely harassed and shaken down. De Blasio and the city had better decide whether they want to shrink from enforcing the law or watch the value of its retail market erode like it did in the 1960s and 1970s.