NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Two uniformed New York City police officers who were spotted snapping selfies with the topless models in Times Square have been reassigned.
This on the same day Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded to the growing controversy over the presence of the “desnudas,” lashing out against the women posing nearly naked in the photos.
“Once again, New York City police officers are being held to a different and unfair standard,” said Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch. “Posing for selfies with tourists and performers is standard practice for officers and there is no way these officers violated any laws. Punishing them in any way for it is a miscarriage of justice.”
Cuomo said the women posing for the photos are breaking the law and undermining efforts to keep the tourist area family friendly.
Cuomo told NY1 on Wednesday that the situation is beginning to remind him of the seedy days of the “bad old Times Square.”
The women pose for photos with tourists in exchange for cash and often wear only body paint and a thong. They call themselves “desnudas,” which is Spanish for “naked.”
“This is a serious issue,” Cuomo said. “The specifics may be somewhat trite, but it’s a serious issue.”
“I believe this activity is illegal,” Cuomo said. “I believe it is infringing on legitimate businesses. I believe it is infringing on the investment that the state and the city made in the 42nd Street area and I believe it has to be stopped.”
Cuomo touted previous efforts to clean up Times Square.
“42nd Street was a symbol of degradation of New York City and New York State. I’m old enough to remember, and history can be instructive, it was terrible,” Cuomo said. “I was around for the bad old Times Square, and this is starting to remind me of the bad old Times Square. Because, remember, the bad old Times Square, there wasn’t blatant corruption. It was seedy. There were panhandlers. There were people on the streets soliciting people to go inside to peep shows.”
“This is supposed to be a tourist attraction, family friendly, the new New York symbol,” Cuomo said. “Beautiful theaters, entertainment, lights … we’re not going back.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday the city will take action against the nearly naked models.
“It’s wrong, it’s wrong. It’s just — look I, as a progressive who believes in civil liberties and believes in our First Amendment, I understand the legal challenge here. But I don’t think that’s the end of the discussion,” de Blasio said. “This situation is going to change. This is what I’ll guarantee you, I’m not going to tolerate it. I’m not satisfied that we have used every tool in our arsenal yet.”
The mayor said the city is looking at several options, much to the relief of the Times Square Alliance. The proposals include “parkland” status for Times Square, which would allow a ban, licenses and ID’s for all street performers, including costumed characters, and new zones, CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported.
Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel said it’s not as simple as that.
“If any of those proposals are enacted … the performers, the women, the costume people could go to court and challenge them,” Siegel said.
He explained that if a court deems what’s going on as commercial activity, then the city could issue licenses like they do for vendors, but otherwise not much else can be done.
“The fact that they make it a park doesn’t mean that the equal protection and the First Amendment principals would not still be applicable. In fact, many of the cases that deal with First Amendment rights are in the context of a park. So just making it a park doesn’t make this issue go away,” Siegel said.
Legality aside, it’s clear some want changes.
“It is a quality-of-life issue, and the worst-case scenario is that people don’t want to come to Times Square,” Caitlin Lewis said.
The alliance said visitors have emailed concerns, and vowed to spend their money elsewhere.
Street entertainer Paola Pena maintains no one is doing anything wrong. What she does for money — taking off her top, getting painted and posing for photos and tips — is legal in New York.
But though toplessness is not illegal in New York, aggressive panhandling and aggressive solicitation are illegal.
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