NEW YORK (AP) — Street performers dressed like Iron Man, the Hulk and Anna from “Frozen” accosted tourists in Times Square, 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 color-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. Workers started painting the zones on Wednesday.
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 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.
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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 realize a tip was expected and the performers were often “aggressive about insisting on a tip.”
The organization originally handed out fliers to tourists reminding them that tipping is optional. But as the new zones go into effect starting 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.
Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show city workers, not Times Square Alliance workers, will begin the educational blitz.