UK & World News
Times Square Super-Heroes Fight For Image
Costumed characters who pose for tourist photographs in New York's Times Square have formed an association to protect their image after a spate of arrests.
Dozens of people dressed as super-heroes, Disney or Sesame Street characters and other children's favourites roam the streets around Times Square, posing in exchange for tips.
But some incidents in recent weeks have brought them bad publicity and concerns have grown over the unregulated street performers.
A man dressed as Spider-Man was arrested last month after allegedly punching a police officer who told him to stop harassing tourists.
And in April last year, a Cookie Monster shoved a two-year-old child whose mother failed to tip him after taking a photo.
Police have begun handing out leaflets reminding New Yorkers and visitors that tipping the characters is optional, and urging them to call the 911 emergency number with any complaints.
The Times Square Alliance, a business coalition, joined in the effort.
"We're seeing everything from groping to harassing of tourists to some violent behaviour," said Gia Storms, a spokeswoman for the group.
The performers - whose costumes range from Buzz Lightyear to Mickey Mouse, from Batman to the Statue of Liberty - say the crackdown has significantly reduced their profit.
Now they are intent on fighting back against the suggestion that they are just pests prowling the streets in search of easy tourist money.
The new group is called Association Of Artists United For A Smile and meets at the offices of an advocacy groups for immigrant workers, since many of the performers come from Latin America.
The workers eventually hope to create a labour group and seek protection of their trade.
"We're people who want to be treated as workers with dignity and not be treated as cartoon characters just because we wear a mask," said association organiser Yamil Morales, who is from Colombia.
New York City, which requires vendors to get a licence for selling hot-dogs and hawking trinkets, has no oversight for the costumed characters.
However, putting on a costume and walking around Times Square appears to be protected under the First Amendment.