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Times Square cartoon actors form alliance to preserve their livelihood

CCTV.com

08-16-2014 00:53 BJT

New York's Times Square is well known for its roaming cartoon stars and costumed characters who pose for tourist photographs, in the hope of a cash tip. But the real-life Mickey Mouses and Spider Men say they're under attack from city officials, following a spate of recent arrests and bad publicity. Now, the actors have now formed an association, hoping to defend and preserve their livelihood.

Spider-Man, Batman, Elmo, and Mickey Mouse.....

They're all here, in and around Times Square, beckoning passing kids and their camera-toting parents.

After every photo, comes the request for a tip.

But New York city officials, from the mayor down, say they're harassing visitors. Police have begun handing out flyers, reminding tourists that tipping is "optional."

Joshua roams Times Square dressed as Buzz Lightyear. He says his income has fallen significantly....

"Business is slow. You saw the cops. They are putting up signs already all over Times Square saying don't tip the guys. And I have a son. I got my apartment. I got bills, my cell phone to pay. Before I used to make a good amount of money. But this job now, I went down to $35 (USD) a day because now every cop is harassing me, like saying 'you don't have to pay', 'you don't have to pay them'. So the customers and the tourists, they leave," Joshua said.

Joshua is from Texas, but a large number of the performers are immigrants from Latin America.

The clampdown follows a string of recent arrests, after confrontations with tourists or police. One Spider-Man has been charged with punching a police officer.

The Times Square Alliance, which helps manage the square, says the public information campaign was badly needed.

"In conjunction with the New York Police Department, Times Square Alliance is producing flyers that we are actually distributing to the public via the police officers to try and inform people that yes, you can tip these characters, but tipping is optional. It's not mandated. It's not required," said Gia Storms, Times Square Alliance.

The Alliance also wants to bring in criminal records checks for all performers.
 
But the actors are fighting back... They've formed their own group, the Association of Artists United for a Smile.

They say what they're doing is protected under the Constitutional right to freedom of speech and assembly.... and they want that right to be upheld.

The cartoon stars have long been a well-known feature of the Square. But anything can come to an end, and officials say their only concern is public safety.

Many are waiting to see who will win the battle.

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