Sign language

A panhandler finds himself in trouble with the NYPD. Wouldn’t have anything to do with what’s on his sign, would it?

“Help!” the sign, in green letters, reads. “I Need Money for Weed!” The man, Joshua Long, has become a favorite of some tourists who pose for pictures with him and stuff dollar bills into his hand. But some police officers in Midtown have taken a dim view of his entrepreneurial spirit and, perhaps, the words that further it; they have arrested him several times while he was displaying his placard. Once, he said, officers told him he was not welcome on Broadway because they objected to his message. When he asked those officers to identify themselves, he said, they replied by arresting him.

Luckily, we have the judiciary to correct such a situation. Mr. Long sued, saying he was arrested five times between May 2010 and June 2011 and charged with various crimes, such as disorderly conduct and “obstructing governmental administration,” whatever that means. The outcome?

Judge Shira A. Scheindlin approved a stipulation in which the city agreed that the police would use their “best efforts” not to roust Mr. Long or arrest him without cause.

Was anyone made safer when cops arrested Mr. Long over and over again (and pepper-sprayed him for good measure)? Would they have done so if he had held a sign saying “God Bless” or some other message of head-bowed piety or humility? Who are the real lawbreakers and harassers here? And what does it say about New York’s law enforcement that the promise the judge succeeded in eliciting from the NYPD is that cops will now use their “best efforts not to arrest Mr. Long without cause”?

About Rogier:
Rogier is a Dutch-born, New-England-dwelling multi-media maven (OK, a writer and photographer) whose dead-tree publishing credits include the New York Times, Wired, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Reason.
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