New Yorkers have prided themselves on cleaning up Times Square, routing out the sleazy movie theaters and massage parlors, creating pedestrian streets and bringing more family-friendly theaters and events to the neighborhood. A Madame Tussaud wax museum, a humongous toy store, various traveling exhibitions including King Tut and Lego constructions have all inhabited the area, encouraging parents to bring children to that part of the city. So it was with a great deal of surprise that I observed the topless women on Broadway and 44th street smiling cheerfully as people photographed them and stared at their body-painted torsos. One was a well-proportioned young woman standing in the pedestrian designated street nonchalantly handing out fliers for some event. The other was a middle-aged woman - topless and strumming a guitar on the sidewalk. Passers-by, including children and tourists couldn’t stop gawking at the unexpected nudity on a late September day.
When I got home, I checked the statute for indecent exposure in the city. New York criminalizes exposure where a person appears in a public place and exposes the private parts of his or her body. Section 245.01 of the Penal Code specifies that the statute exempts breastfeeding infants or any person entertaining or performing in a play, exhibition or show. I wondered whether playing a guitar or handing out brochures qualifies as entertainment and I wondered whether this was what the zoning board had in mind when they closed vehicular traffic to create the additional space that accommodates it. Are breasts considered covered if they are colored with paint? Is this what we want in one of the most visited parts of our city in the middle of the day?
Clearly, this has not aroused police interference though I don’t understand why not. Nothing could be more antithetical to the concept of closing streets to traffic and creating space for people to congregate than tolerating x-rated activity in broad daylight. Even beaches are separately zoned for nudity - how can this be allowed in our city’s most vital hub? Will our newly selected mayor candidates please step up to address this issue and dress these women? Even our outgoing mayor has enough time left ro restore our streets to public standards of decency, especially in the neighborhood which the whole world watches as the ball falls on New Year’s Eve - a neighborhood that has come to be synonymous with the character of New York itself.
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