First Elmo from Sesame Street yelled anti-Semitic slurs at children. Then Woody from Toy Story allegedly groped two young women. Now, as New York City lawmakers consider legislation to regulate costumed characters in Times Square, a man dressed as Spiderman has been charged with assaulting an officer and resisting arrest after he allegedly punched a policeman in the face.
The impersonator was dressed head to toe in the Spider-Man outfit while allegedly telling New York tourists he only accepted $5, $10 and $20 dollar bills for people to have their picture taken with them.
But as Peter Parker was told by his uncle; “With great power comes great responsibility,” which a police officer clearly wanted to point out to the chancer after he overheard the amount the fake Spider-Man was charging tourists.
Junior Bishop, 25, was let down by his Spidey-sense when he swore at the police officer who told tourists he was obliged to accept donations of any amount they chose, and continued to swear as the New York cop asked for his identification, which Mr Bishop said he didn’t have.
Mr Bishop then revealed his true identity as he tore off his mask and threw repeated punches at the police officer who had tried to arrest him and who was then backed up by a second officer, as they took the not-so-friendly-neighbourhood Spider-Man down.
The fracas was caught on video while other street performers dressed as Mickey Mouse, Elmo and Batman stood by and watched.
Mr Bishop has been charged with assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest and criminal mischief. The officer was taken to a medical centre to be treated for pain and swelling to the face.
“The real Spider-Man would never have done something like this,” an officer told The New York Post, while another source was quoted as saying Mr Bishop had been arrested seven times. Mr Bishop was arrested in April this year for allegedly carrying a knife during his panhandling activities, while acting aggressively.
But the Spidey impersonator’s fellow performers jumped to his defence. A man dressed as Batman told the paper that the police officer had been overly aggressive, claiming that Spider-Man was grabbed by the neck, while a woman dressed as Minnie Mouse said Mr Bishop had been asking “politely” for tips.
The performers claimed that “everybody is scared after what happened to the man in Staten Island,” referring to the case of Eric Garner, who died of a heart attack while in police custody, hours after being arrested and allegedly put into an illegal chokehold by officers.
The incident comes a week after New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton welcomed the City Council’s efforts to deal with Times Square’s “Elmo issues”. A bill is being considered by the council that would call for licences and background checks for the costumed performers. However, there are complications surrounding copyright of the characters, as well as the performers’ first amendment rights to free expression.
Tim Tompkins, President of the Times Square Alliance, recently told the New York Daily News, “Our feeling is that there’s honest folks out there trying to make a living, but there’s also folks there trying to take advantage of people.” Mr Tompkins added that the impersonators were engaged in a “business activity that can be regulated like any other.”
In a recent survey, the Alliance counted more than 75 costumed characters operating in the Square at one time. The performers are thought to average around $50 in tips per day, though some have claimed to take home twice that amount. It is a profession that attracts misfits and eccentrics such as 51-year-old Dan Sandler, an Elmo impersonator who in 2012 pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after he was caught on camera delivering an anti-Semitic rant while in costume.
In June 2013, Sandler was jailed for a year for attempting to extort $2m from the Girl Scouts. He had threatened to spread false rumours linking the organisation to a Cambodian “rape camp”, and had also sent semi-naked pictures of himself to a female worker at the Girl Scouts’ New York HQ, where he had previously been employed – as a temp, not as an Elmo.
In December 2012, a Super Mario was arrested for groping a 58-year-old woman. Last year, a Cookie Monster was charged with endangering the welfare of a child, when he shoved a two-year-old whose mother had declined to tip. Another Spiderman, 36-year-old Phillip Williams, was recently convicted of harassment and fined $370 for a February 2013 incident in which he punched a woman who had refused to pay him for posing for a picture with her children.
So far this year, a Woody from Toy Story and yet another Spiderman have both been charged with “forcible touching” after they were accused of groping women in separate incidents. Last month, a man dressed as the Statue of Liberty was arrested for brawling with another man, also dressed as the Statue of Liberty, after the two became embroiled in a turf war over a lucrative patch outside Times Square’s Marriot Marquis Hotel.