NEW YORK (AP) — Some costumed characters in Times Square ripped off their mammoth heads on Tuesday, showing their real faces to protest what they call a "hostile move" by police telling tourists they don't have to tip for photos.
The giant Elmos, Mickey Mouses, Statues of Liberty and other beloved children's characters — mostly Spanish-speaking immigrants — held a news conference to proclaim their right to the meager survival cash.
"Si se puede!" they chanted in Spanish, meaning "Yes we can!"
One of their protest signs read: "We make the world smile," and another, "Let us work."
Earlier this month, the New York Police Department started distributing leaflets and posting signs in five languages telling visitors that tips are optional. As a result, tip intake has plummeted.
The crackdown followed a string of harrowing incidents in which some of the characters assaulted tourists, including children. Others harassed people and groped women. The face-offs peaked last month when a Spider-Man demanding money punched a police officer telling a woman she was not obliged to pay.
The performers argue that most of them don't demand money; they only suggest they be tipped.
More than 130 formed a group this week called NYC Artists United for a Smile to explore how the characters might regulate themselves instead of the licensing now being proposed in the City Council.
On Tuesday, some took off their characters' masks to speak passionately about their right to earn a living.
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