Green Felt Journal

Freaks and Felons

In the past year, a new menace has appeared on the Strip. Costumed “performers” have taken their place beside smut peddlers, nightclub promoters and timeshare hawkers as street-level nuisances that make passers-by yearn for the days when, if you wanted to have an awkward encounter in Las Vegas, you paid good money to chuckle nervously while Don Rickles insulted you.

This is a new breed. Dressed as Cookie Monster, Captain Jack Sparrow, Michael Jackson or even the Devil himself, caped and uncaped culprits have been staking a claim to Las Vegas Boulevard, creating a growing hazard.

For years, similar performers lined Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. There, it makes a little sense; some tourists come to Los Angeles to see stars, and if you don’t run into Christian Bale at Pinkberry, your next best bet might be some random guy in an Adam West-era costume loitering outside the Hollywood and Highland Center. Last summer, a police crackdown on the performers led some of them to relocate to our city; last December, a court injunction cleared the way for them to return to the City of Angels, but many of them have decided, instead, to double down on Vegas.

Granted, this is Sin City: People don’t come here looking for repose. But, increasingly, those walking the Strip have to run a gauntlet while they’re trying to take in the sights. Visitor reaction has been mostly negative.

“These folks are a nuisance,” wrote blog-poster “BigHoss” on a VegasTripping.com thread about the performers. “I see them as panhandlers on steroids.”

The costume drama recently reached a new level of infamy with a YouTube video of Batman slap-fighting a tourist before being taken down and punched repeatedly in the head.

There are several arguments against the costumed performers: They clog an already-congested pedestrian thoroughfare; the performers provide little entertainment value; they attempt to shake down tourists they think are easy marks; they fundamentally run a business without applying for any business permit or paying any business taxes; they undergo no background checks before undertaking work that permits them physical contact with visitors, particularly minors.

Metro Sgt. Tom Jenkins, who has been working the Strip for 17 years, doesn’t disguise his feelings about the masked marauders.

“I hate this more than anyone,” he says. “I’ve watched the Strip really decline from where it was three or four years ago. These guys are freaks and felons.”

Under one hood, Jenkins found a three-time felon—a guy who’d done a stretch for attempted murder—hugging moms while children wrapped themselves around him. He’s also seen dueling Elvii come to blows over turf, and he recently responded to a report of Freddy Krueger pulling a gun on a passer-by who refused to tip him (by the time Metro arrived, the gun was long gone).

Some wonder why the police don’t do more to rein in such an obvious public safety threat. According to Jenkins, their hands are tied. As long as the performers don’t verbally ask those they “entertain” for money, they can’t be prosecuted under an anti-alms-seeking law that’s already on the books. Putting a tip jar out, even though it’s tantamount to asking for money, isn’t a violation.

“Because they hide behind the First Amendment, we can’t do much,” he says. Fear of lawsuits, he says, has brought pressure to “back off” on running in costumed performers for panhandling.

So far, Jenkins has used another law against the masked minstrels: While it might be legal to perform on a public sidewalk, it isn’t legal to store things there. So the second that performers set up an amplifier or put down a cooler, they’re fair game.

But ultimately, it’s going to take a higher power to clean up the Strip.

“The city and county have to step up,” he says. He’d like to protect the public without violating the “free speech” rights of performers, smut peddlers and other miscreants. The idea would be to limit performers to certain areas where passers-by who want to mingle can seek them out, while those who just want to walk the Strip can do so without molestation.

There’s a lot at stake. Right now, the Strip is an accident waiting to happen, and if visitors don’t feel safe in the tourist corridor, they’ll go elsewhere.

It’s time for the County Commissioners to prove themselves to be the real superheroes by passing an ordinance that can empower the police to clean up the Strip and protect the public.

Follow David G. Schwartz via RSS.

  • Lvpinupgirl

    While some people become homeless due to their own doing like being a drug addict some have become homeless do to the economy. Some have been fired after working long and hard at jobs and managment would rather move in their personal friends. Some have been laid off and told that their postion no longer exsits. So now those in this position now have to compete with a thousand others in our Economic Holocaust, where those that have stand above those that do not and laugh while the prisoners hurt each other to climb on one another just to get scraps of what a job or life used to be. Yes I know you are sitting there saying yea yea we have heard this. Well some decided you know what I am going to get my tushie up and attempt to do something instead of just allowing myself to go completely under.

     

    Of course while walking down the strip and mostly Fremont Street I don’t love it when someone offers a fun photo but then holds out their hand for a tip, but not all do that. Characters and “entertainers” are out there putting themselves out there HOPING you will be kind enough to give even just a dollar for their time. I don’t think they should ask for money or a tip if you will. Those that throw down a tip bucket and do not stand there and count their tips are a but more classy. I don’t feel that any of them have the right to grab at you or say anything lude. These people are not the nude card/flyer people that shove things into your hand to promote illegal acts. While those people are handing out subject matter that is not appropriate for all ages they still do it. I do not feel that is right at all. (even when I feel it is even less appropriate for an adult to bring a child to Las Vegas. I’m born and raised out here and my parents have taught me how to be civilized as a younger person in Las Vegas. We were not allowed out after a certain time with or with out an adult.) But I watched as my sister was handed promo cards with darn near nude girls in broad daylight asking for you to call for an intimate time. PLEASE understand I know the difference between strip clubs and a brothel. But either way, stripping is legal while paying for sex is legal in Parhump. But let’s say a character is out there and has larger assets than others man or woman and a tourist fondles them in an inapropriate sexual manner, if a character definds themself it is told that they have asked for it. Yea looking at it that way it isn’t really nice either way now is it??

    While some want this stopped and while others want them to have certain credits and background check etc, I feel that there should just be some darn ground rules that are VERY CLEAR. Let’s see… They should not approach a consumer of the Las Vegas City (fancy name for a tourist or pedestrian), If a said person chooses to come up to the character/entertainer it is their choice. The entertainers/characters should be alotted a certain amount of space through walkways that are given as first come first serve, no fighting over times and space that way. Street preformers/Characters etc should not interupt a landmark preformance like The Fountains, The Light Show at Fremont, Pirate Show etc. So no performing or offering during these moments going on. Also if they are caught asking, gesturing or begging for tips it would be a no no. A tip jar or bucket would be less invasive. As for costuming all parts should be covered. Come on no thongs, breasts bared with pasties or just a loin cloth.

     

    If people aren’t threating or being lude then they should be left alone as long as they have some ground rules.

  • Willieinvegas

    Before I ever give anyone criticism I like to give acknowledgement for things they are correct about. Mr Schwartz you are absolutely correct about the massive influx of characters streaming in from California. When I first started doing street magic on the Las Vegas Strip it was me, one other magician, Captain Jack Sparrow (The original one, not these Captain Hacks that have been showing up)  and a young man with 2 Macaws. That was 4 years ago. In the past year and a half characters from California have been streaming into Vegas and staying. Some of them (Not all of them) are extremely aggresive when asking for tips and we all agree if they can’t handle working for free, they should go get on a companies payroll or go back to California. The locals dont like them, and most tourists don’t either. But to make this clear, not ALL of the LA characters are like that. 

    My first criticism Mr. Schwartz involves your statement of “They provide little entertainment value”. You must spend a lot of your time away from the strip to say something so bold. I have never, in 26 years of life, seen a middle aged women so happy to be able to talk and take a picture with Captain Jack Sparrow. I have never seen a kids light up so brightly to be able to shake hands with a life sized versions of Spongebob SquarePants and the Cookie Monster. In the middle of smut cards and casinos, where the kids have nothing to do but get pushed around and watch as their parents have fun, they have their moment of fun Mr. Schwartz. And never have I been so proud to have a 15 year old boy stop me as I am walking down the street to shake my hand. Why? “Cause your gonna be famous one day Willie, I just wanted to shake your hand”.

    I have 4 years of college behind me and I still havent been able to find a job in Nevada. This is the epicenter of the recession Mr. Schwartz. But instead of relying on other taxpayers I have found a way to support my son, Alec. I can pay for a roof over his head, buy him food and save money for his college education. But I guess that makes me a freak.

    I am not suprised that someone incorporated in the gaming industry would have such bad things to say about the characters that try desperatly to support themselves and their families. Your on the casino’s side. But maybe instead of writing articles  biased to them you should take a look at other things. Maybe why our high schools rank worst in the country? Why our violent crime rate is even worse then worse? But they dont pay you to study that do they Mr. Schwartz? 

     

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