Sunday 25 March 2018

Iron Man, the Hulk and Princess Anna from Frozen arrested in New York for demanding cash from tourists

In this March 29, 2016 file photo, a bus tour ticket seller, center, walks through a group of costumed characters in Times Square in New York
In this March 29, 2016 file photo, a bus tour ticket seller, center, walks through a group of costumed characters in Times Square in New York

Ezra Kaplan

Iron Man, the Hulk and Anna from Frozen were arrested for accosting tourists in New York City's Times Square, demanding cash and refusing to give them change.

The street performers were held just hours after the city began to paint rectangles in pedestrian plazas to confine costumed characters.

The colour-coded Designated Activity Zones are meant to rein in the pushy panhandlers who have flooded the area, in some cases harassing passers-by to take photos with them in exchange for tips.

Police said on Thursday, a man and a woman from Iowa took photos with the Anna character, who took 10 dollar (£7) as a tip. The tourists demanded change and Anna handed back 3 dollars (£2) and walked off.

The out-of-towners also gave 10 dollars to Iron Man and 10 dollars to the Hulk, who refused to give them change. There is no set tip amount, but tips are expected.

A police spokesman said charges against the three characters are pending.

Under a law signed by city mayor Bill de Blasio in April, street performers and costumed characters can be issued summonses or face arrest if they are caught operating outside the eight designated rectangles. Each area is painted teal and measures 8ft by 50ft.

Some lawyers and performers say the new rules infringe performers' First Amendment rights.

"The legislation has created a no-free-expression zone in the quintessential public space, the Crossroads of the World," lawyer Norman Siegel said.

But lawyer Linda Steinman, representing the Times Square Alliance business group, said the new rules are consistent with case law permitting restrictions on the time, place and manner of speech.

"It's not a ban on anything," she said.

Yamil Morales, who dresses as the Mad Hatter from Alice And Wonderland, said the new rules "are against the Constitution and against the understanding we have with this area".

He added, "There could be a lot of arrests, which is bad because these people have families that they are supporting."

Some of the conflict has been over the expectation of tipping after the performers take pictures with tourists.

Times Square Alliance president Tim Tompkins said that in the past a lot of tourists did not realise a tip was expected and the performers were often "aggressive about insisting on a tip".

The organisation originally handed out fliers to tourists reminding them that tipping is optional.

But as the new zones go into effect starting on June 21, the alliance will be posting signs with the message: "If you take a photo with an entertainer, please note tipping is expected."

A team of 10 city workers will begin an education blitz next week to inform the performers and the public about the new rules.

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