Comic book characters arrested over hassling Times Square tourists

Street performers dressed like Iron Man, the Hulk and Anna from Frozen accosted tourists in Times Square.

Costumed performers in Times Square are to be confined to activity zones. Picture: AP

They demanded cash from them, refused to give them change and were arrested on Thursday just hours after the city started painting teal rectangles in pedestrian plazas to confine the costumed characters, police said.

The colour-coded Designated Activity Zones are meant to rein in the beggars who have flooded the area, in some 
cases harassing passers-by to take photos with them in exchange for tips. Workers started painting the zones on Wednesday.

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On Thursday, Iron Man, the Hulk and Anna took photos with a man and a woman from Iowa, demanded tips and walked off without giving the tourists their requested change, a police spokesman said. Charges against the characters were pending on Thursday night.

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

Some lawyers and performers say the new rules infringe on 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 attorney 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,” Steinman 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 didn’t realise a tip was expected and the performers were often “aggressive about insisting on a tip”.