NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The calls for regulating costumed street performers have grown louder after police said five masked characters were arrested in Times Square over the weekend.
The arrests Saturday included 25-year-old Junior Bishop, of Brooklyn, who was dressed as Spider-Man when he allegedly punched an officer in the face after a dispute with a woman over a tip, police said.
Four other characters were also arrested Saturday for disorderly conduct and aggressive panhandling, police said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday he supports establishing rules to govern the characters, CBS 2’s Matt Kozar reported.
“I think it has gone too far, and it’s time to take new steps to regulate this new reality,” he said.
“It’s not appropriate for anyone to demand a certain amount of money from a passing tourist and harass them in that manner,” de Blasio told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman.
The Times Square Alliance said the incident is “yet another reminder that many, though certainly not all, of these so-called friendly characters are actually violent and aggressive and have troubling criminal records.”
“A rigorous licensing scheme would address this and must be implemented,” the group said in a statement.
Tim Tompkins, the Times Square Alliance’s president, added: “If you challenge them about giving a tip, then they push back really hard.”
CBS 2 was curious, so we went undercover in Times Square with interns posing as tourists.
In general, the characters were more subdued. All demanded tips, but didn’t ask for a specific amount — which they’re not allowed to do.
But while one intern was taking a photo with Minnie Mouse, other characters — Mickey Mouse and Papa Smurf — jumped into the frame. All asked for money.
A bill under City Council consideration would require licenses and background checks for costumed performers, but copyright issues have held up final approval, since most of the costume wearers are not authorized by the characters’ owners.
Jose Martinez, who dresses up as Batman, said licensing himself and other characters would be unfair and too difficult to enforce.
However, a Times Square street vendor named Dino said although he has not witnessed any violent behavior, he also believes the characters should have permits.
“They’re not really out here to make people happy; they’re out here to make money,” he told CBS 2’s Andrea Grymes. “It’s a business for them.”
Earlier this month, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said he will “pursue an effort to regulate the activity.”
Bratton said Monday the NYPD will continue to crack down on characters who are aggressive and out of control.
Tourists and New Yorkers alike told CBS 2 the tip-seeking characters are getting out of hand.
“They keep asking for tips,” said Jalicia Cruz, a New Yorker. “And we’re just here to enjoy. We don’t want to keep giving tips all the time.”
On Saturday night, an officer overheard Bishop refuse a woman’s $1 tip after posing for a picture, telling her he only accepts $5, $10 or $20 bills, investigators said.
When the officer told the woman she can donate whatever she wants, Bishop began to yell, curse and argue, police said.
When Bishop didn’t have any identification, the officer tried to arrest him, police said. That’s when Bishop broke free and punched the officer in the face, police said.
Additional cops arrived on the scene and were able to take Bishop into custody, police said.
He was arraigned Sunday on charges of assault, criminal mischief, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Bail was set at $3,500.
But some witnesses claimed the officer attacked first.
“Look what happened in Staten Island,” Martinez said. “Somebody get choked, you know what I mean? He can get choked for that. That’s why he was ‘let me get out of it’ in a situation like that you need to get out.”
A 20-year-old woman dressed as Mickey Mouse said she was working with Bishop at the time of the incident.
“He was trying to defend himself,” she said. “We can’t defend ourselves out here against the cops.”
Bishop is the fourth Spider-Man arrested in Times Square in the last two years.
In late June, a different Spider-Man was arrested for allegedly groping a New Yorker. In that same week, a completely different Spider-Man was convicted of harassing a woman in a Times Square spat.
There also have been recent reports of a brawl between two Statues of Liberty and a man dressed as Woody from “Toy Story” allegedly groping women.
In April 2013, a man dressed as Cookie Monster was charged with endangering the welfare of a child after allegedly shoving a 2 1/2-year-old boy.
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