If J. Jonah Jameson existed in our world, no doubt he would be taking to the airwaves and writing Daily Bugle editorials proclaiming, “I told you so!” That’s because in New York City, there have been two separate incidents involving street performers dressed as Spider-Man who have been brought up on criminal charges.
The defendant, Philip Williams, was found not guilty in the assault of a woman during an altercation after she refused him a tip.
In the same breath, however, Judge Anthony Ferrara slapped Mr. Williams with a $250 fine for harassment, because he had used foul language in front of the woman’s two young children. The judge chided Mr. Williams that Spider-Man should be a role model.
Philip Williams was fined $250 on Wednesday for harassment, because he used foul language in front of his accuser’s two young children.
“You should know better; you should know better,” Judge Ferrara said. “If you want to go back to Times Square, I hope you have learned your lesson from this proceeding: Be more courteous to the people you see.”
The judge’s verdict followed a bizarre bench trial without a jury. Mr. Williams, 36, an aspiring actor, claimed he punched the woman in self-defense after she slugged him in the back of the head with a piece of ice and her husband grabbed him from behind.
The woman, Victoria Goreaciuc, 46, a technology expert, maintained she had only thrown some snow in Mr. Williams’s face. She said she was walking by the costumed actor, headed toward a police car, when he punched her in the face.
The argument had started an hour earlier, when Mr. Williams cursed Ms. Goreaciuc in front of her children after she refused to give him $5 for snapping a photo.
The second incident was the arrest of another Spider-Man street performer, this time for inappropriately groping a woman in public:
Moussa Rabaoui of Queens allegedly grabbed a woman’s breasts and buttocks as he put his arm around her on Broadway near W. 42nd St. at about 5 p.m. Friday, police said.
He then cursed at her when she became angry, according to cops.
The woman flagged down cops, who chased the salacious superhero down before charging him with forcible touching, a misdemeanor.
This latest occurrence proved too much for Tim Thompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, which is a coalition of local government officials and business owners:
“In the last 10 days alone, we’ve seen two Statues of Liberty arrested, a Spider-Man convicted of harassing a tourist, and now a third character arrested for groping a woman in Times Square,” Times Square Alliance head Tim Tompkins told CBS New York. “The situation is out of control and a licensing and regulatory scheme must be put in place.”
Tompkins previously called for regulations in January, after a Woody character was arrested on sex abuse charges, CNN reported. And last year, a Cookie Monster allegedly shoved a child, police told CNN.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told Reuters in 2013 that the ability to put on a costume and go to Times Square is likely protected under the First Amendment. One man who dressed as Elmo told Reuters for that article that he takes home $600 a week from the job. Another character told the AP in 2013 he has made as much as $280 in one six-hour period.
While Tompkins is recommending restrictions, he doesn’t think a complete ban on costumed characters in Times Square is the answer. Instead, he is seeking to establish a licensing system — including background checks — for characters in disguise.
“Quirky in Times Square is OK, creepy is not,” he told PIX11.
That’s right—Mr. Thompkins is essentially calling for a real-life version of Marvel’s own Registration Act for panhandlers who dress up as cartoon and comic book characters. Stranger than fiction, indeed.