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Times Square Costumed Characters, Upset About Leaflets Regarding Tips, Protest 'Hostile' NYPD

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) - The Times Square costumed characters took off their masks to protest what they call a "hostile move'' by New York police telling tourists they don't have to tip for photos.

The giant Elmos, Mickey Mouses and Statues of Liberty proclaimed their right to make money Tuesday.

The mostly Spanish-speaking immigrants have formed a new group called NYC Artists United for a Smile.

They say it's their constitutional right to earn a living entertaining people. The $50 to $70 dollars a day they make amounts to less than minimum wage for shifts of up to 12 hours.

"They want to make sure that when people come to Times Square that they don't view them as 'Oh my God, they're out to take my money,'" Alex Gomez, a spokesman for La Fuente, a group focused on immigrant workers, told 1010 WINS. "No, they're here to make sure you have, just like any other amusement park kind of place, they want to make sure you have the best time possible in Times Square and that you want to come back year after year."

Authorities say some of the characters have attacked tourists or harassed them for not paying.

"I've been out here for 12 years, 10 or 12 years, doing the Big Apple, I've never had one problem with the tourists, but I have had dozens of problems with the NYPD," Steven Mercier told 1010 WINS. Mercier dresses as a big apple in yellow shorts. A video of his arrest two years ago is viewable on YouTube:

Big Apple Gets Arrested in Times Square by Sonny747 on YouTube

"A few bad apples don't necessarily define the whole bunch, and we want to make sure that they get a chance to tell their side of the story," Gomez said.

Last week, the NYPD started distributing leaflets and posting signs telling visitors that tips are optional.

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(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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