Archives for category: police

A year ago, a singer and activist know as “Ton Dou” (an abbreviation of his real name, Tony Douglas) held the first of what he called his Ultimate Freedom Concerts — events held in public places (in this case, Times Square in the middle of New York City) where people of goodwill could demonstrate that being naked doesn’t need to be sexual or offensive in any way. For six or seven hours, a group of partially or fully nude people congregated in this high-traffic spot, in full view of locals and tourists, vendors and costumed characters, and peacefully sang, spoke, practiced yoga, painted one another, and explained to the baffled masses on the other side of the protective fencing what it was all about.

This year he did it again, and it went more or less as before: baffled masses on one side, naked people on the other, some mutual understanding gingerly arrived at between the two.

Was there any difference? Well, last year’s profound gender imbalance — two dozen naked men, one naked woman — was slightly less profound: there were maybe one dozen men and four or five women. It’s a step in the right direction.

And the interactions with spectators were less confrontational. Last year the group was met with some antagonism, especially from people stumbling on the event unawares after exiting the annual Brazil Day festivities a block away, coincidentally scheduled for the same day. It was again Brazil Day this year, but somehow celebrants from that event seemed more tolerant or curious than hostile. Maybe the slightly better gender balance had something to do with that. Stumbling across a pen of naked men in Times Square is somehow different from stumbling across a mix of naked men and women. And maybe it also helped that some of the Brazilians this year seem to have embraced at least partial nudity:

Participants were still in a pen, though. The group meets with the city’s blessing and under the protection of the New York Police Department, but that same police department mandates metal fencing between the event and the public, and the result is an inescapable suggestion of animals in a zoo. Then, too, the male participants are a motley bunch that include some sincere idealists, some grizzled veterans of the nudist scene, some starved-for-human-contact sorts who might otherwise be tossing tetrahedral dice (not that there’s anything wrong with that…), and some hardened exhibitionists (not literally hardened, thankfully — but it’s clear enough what they’re there for). The message is a good and healthy message — but the participants attempting to convey the message aren’t all equally good ambassadors for the cause.

But: one step at a time. Last year’s event was a bit shaky; this year’s was definitely better; next year’s should be better still. And we do wholeheartedly endorse the goal: to make nudity more acceptable, more understood, less a cause for shame or embarrassment or anger. We feel fortunate to live in a city where an event like this can happen, not just once but annually, and with no motive other than to make the world a better, freer place.

IMG_4119We went to Bryant Park the other day expecting to get to lie on the lawn — but when we got there, the lawn was roped off, with signs proclaiming that the grass was taking time out to rest after getting stomped on by several hundred pairs of feet during a recent event.

Slightly disappointing — but being dextrous improvisors, we pulled a pair of tables and half a dozen chairs over to the edge of the lawn and sat ourselves down for a lovely and civilized topless picnic, fueled by nibbles sourced from park purveyors.

IMG_4074IMG_4085IMG_4114Interestingly “time out” was an apt theme for the day’s festivities, since we were joined for part of the afternoon by an editor from the magazine Time Out New York, which has written about our activities from time to time over the past several years. While she didn’t get topless herself, she mentioned that she’d spent time topless on Fire Island, so…we have hopes we might yet convert her from curious-observer to full-participating-member status.

IMG_4303In the meantime, we enjoyed our sojourn in what is perhaps Manhattan’s busiest and least private park. Jammed in the heart of midtown, this particular urban oasis leans toward the ‘urban’ side of that formulation. The result was an unusual number of random people sneaking cell-phone photos of us and looking furtive when we made it clear we saw what they were doing.

IMG_4385On the other hand, we also had some lovely interactions, including with a park security officer who stood up for us repeatedly whenever he was asked if what we were doing was legal (it was, and he knew it, and he patiently repeated it to anyone who questioned it), and with this fellow, whose service dog welcomed the warm hug we offered it.

IMG_4281There was ample sun and a variety of spots from which to enjoy its caresses.

IMG_4179IMG_4162There was talk of politics and body image and subjective feelings of comfort, including some discussion of why it feels different to be topless with your nipples bare vs. topless with your nipples covered. (One of our members came to our event straight from a swimsuit photoshoot for which she’d had nipple covers already in place, and she left them on as much for visual variety as any other reason.)

IMG_4228IMG_4233And to add to the whole covered/uncovered dichotomy there was this is-it-a-top? top, which served not only in the park but for the subway ride home after as well.

IMG_4039IMG_4182-subwayAll in all, a terrific way to celebrate the first full week of summer. Would you like to join us for the second? We have a very special private bodypainting event coming up, followed by an outdoor acroyoga class taught by a member who’s not only an acro instructor but also a black belt in taekwondo! If you’d like to come to one of those — or just to one of our regular events where all be do is sip cool beverages and hang out — please email us at toplesspulpfiction@gmail.com.  All women are welcome! We hope you’ll take a moment to write and say hi.

And remember: it’s your right as much as it is his.

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IMG_3955fIt is of course legal for women to go topless in New York anywhere a man can, and it has been for the past 25 years. That’s true in any of the city’s parks, where men habitually relax topless in the grass or stroll shirtless on the paths…

IMG_3851…and it is also true on the streets of the city, such as the waterfront esplanades at the lower tip of Manhattan. It’s not automatically true in private establishments such as restaurants (which are free to impose a “no shoes, no shirts, no service” policy as long as it’s applied impartially), but any private establishment can permit toplessness if it wishes.

With that in mind, we thought we’d commemorate the winding down of summer with a day in which we did all three: began at midday in a downtown park, then took a long afternoon stroll along the waterside and through the streets of lower Manhattan, and finally sat down in the evening for a group dinner at a friendly establishment that didn’t mind our dining sans chemises.

IMG_4028Joining us for this very special event was our old friend Chelsea Covington, a tireless and passionate advocate for equal rights in general and topfreedom in particular.

IMG_3916Chelsea is the brave soul at the center of the legal case you may have seen in the news regarding women’s rights to go topless on the beach in Maryland. You can find out more on her blog, BreastsAreHealthy, and we very much encourage you to do so. If we haven’t already, she’ll inspire you to take that first step toward topfreedom yourself.

IMG_3938We began our adventure with Chelsea in Rockefeller Park, down at the far west end of Warren Street, with the Hudson River at our backs. At first, when there were only two of us there and he saw us taking off our tops, a park worker came up to us and erroneously claimed that we had to put our shirts back on; we told him he should consult with the police if he didn’t want to take our word for it that the law was on our side. He left.

IMG_4063Later, when there were more of us and we’d spent some time taking pictures of one another, a different park worker approached to ask if we were “doing a photo shoot.” We had the right to be topless, he acknowledged, but photo shoots require permits. We explained that we weren’t “doing a photo shoot,” we were just a group of friends, we had a visitor from out of town whom we don’t see nearly often enough, and of course we wanted to take pictures together, just like anyone else might. Was that a problem?

Well, no — he’d just gotten some complaints from a nearby group with children, and knowing that he couldn’t legally hassle us for being topless was trying desperately to come up with some other pretext for hassling us. But we know our rights and stood up to him, and eventually he left too. (At least this time no actual police showed up.)

In between those encounters, and on either side of them, we had a lovely time in the park — discussed books and politics,

IMG_3859Enjoyed the breezes off the water,

IMG_3932fAnd ate strawberries together with an avian pal.

IMG_3825fIMG_3914cIMG_4024Then the clock chimed four, and with just an hour until our dinner reservation, we began our walk. About which, more anon.

IMG_4084IMG_4095In the meantime, we’ll say this: getting hassled by park personnel is not fun — but it’s one hell of a lot better than being arrested and fined $1,000, which is what can happen to you in Ocean City, MD, if you’re a woman who exposes a nipple on the beach (but not if you’re a man). In New York, we have the law on our side and are merely exercising our rights. Chelsea is out there fighting for them. Our hats — and our tops — are off to her.

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Yesterday we posted the story of how our most recent park visit, downtown in the vicinity of the Statue of Liberty (for maximum irony), briefly got interrupted by eight police officers hopeful they might persuade us not to do what we have every right to do (or maybe just eager for a good look). Now you can judge for yourself whether what they saw constituted an affront to decency and civility.

IMG_8605IMG_8814Happily the police decided it did not, or at least had to concede that they had no legal right to intrude. So off they slunk and we continued having the very relaxing, very pleasant afternoon we’d been having before they showed up.

IMG_8622Books read ranged from Sense and Sensibility to SoHo Sins, from Stephen King’s classic It to Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 to Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin’s brand new comic book Normandy Gold

IMG_8771IMG_8798IMG_8778Oh, and the Sunday Times crossword puzzle!

IMG_8677IMG_8731Much fresh produce was consumed, and the grocery store stickers cheekily repurposed for social commentary.

IMG_8504Handstands were performed.

IMG_8746Also piggyback rides.

IMG_8923Naps were taken.

IMG_8902And police officers were educated.

IMG_8863All in all, a very good day.

IMG_8759And who knows? Maybe on her day off, one of the female officers in the group that accosted us might even try it for herself.

We extended the invitation.

 

IMG_8835Twenty-five years ago, a New York court ruled that women have the same right as men do to go bare-chested in public places; ever since then, it has been legal for a woman to take her top off in any city park. Ten days ago, we continued our ongoing celebration of this milestone in equal rights, body freedom, and just plain common sense with a trip down to Nelson Rockefeller Park, barely a hop, skip and a swim away from the Statue of Liberty. A giant statue of a woman enshrining the principle of liberty! What could be more appropriate?

You’d think so. But apparently someone found the sight of our bare chests distressing — think of the children! — and called the police. And rather than just telling the complainer that there was nothing they could do since what we were doing was perfectly legal, the police came out to the park to talk to us. And not just one police officer, or two, or three, or four. Or five. Or six! Or, god help us, seven.

No, it took eight police officers, in full regalia, to investigate the menace posed by our uncovered nipples.

Eight! That’s enough cops to put down a riot, or to patrol eight neighborhoods that could benefit from an actual reduction in, you know. actual crime. But instead of doing what might colloquially be referred to as “their jobs,” these unmerry souls, bearing facial expressions better suited to a funeral than to a lovely summer’s day, came trundling over like the world’s grouchiest welcoming party.

We’ve gotten complaints, this is a public place, there are children around, we’re going to ask you courteously–

We appreciate the courtesy, we told them, but the answer is no. This a public place, as you say, and we have every right to do what we’re doing. And a right you can be pressured into not exercising is no right at all.

We also handed the officers a printout of the internal police memo from a few years back reminding all NYPD personnel that female toplessness is not a crime and that they are not to arrest any woman merely for baring her chest.

IMG_8848The result? Grudgingly, they acknowledged that we were right — and reluctantly, slowly they headed off.

IMG_8863It was a victory, no question about it. But why is it even necessary to have the battle?

From time to time people ask us, sometimes in an irritated tone, why we bother demonstrating for something we already have the legal right to do. What’s the point? You’ve already won! And that’s true. But at the same time, it’s not. It’s not nearly true enough, not yet. What it’ll take to make it true enough is more days out in the park like this one, a lot more, until finally no one casts a second glance in our direction.

The best victory is the one you don’t have to keep winning.

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IMG_8202Our 4th of July was not all about educating the police in the laws of New York — before and after our blue-suited friends showed up, we spent a blissful afternoon in the pursuit of happiness, and we want to show you that side of the day as well.

IMG_8442Food treats included pastries from the legendary Dominique Ansel (yes, including two cronuts!)…

IMG_8136…while books included classics (Isaac Asimov’s The Stars, Like Dust! Kafka’s Amerika!)…

IMG_8358IMG_8290…non-fiction (Freakonomics! Please Kill Me!)…

IMG_8242IMG_8415…graphic novels (Sex Criminals! The Misadventures of Jane!)…

IMG_8441IMG_8396IMG_8292…and the yet-to-be-published (Quarry In the BlackThe Knife Slipped!).

IMG_8206Our companions included one member’s 3-year-old daughter (who briefly went bottomless, the little nudist) and another’s gorgeous parrot, represented in both actual and tattoo form.

IMG_8145IMG_8128We enjoyed the shade and the sun,

IMG_8186IMG_8198cthe grass and the waterside promenade,

IMG_8221IMG_8329vigorous activity and lazing around.

IMG_8326IMG_8187And we made many new friends, ranging from these 12-year-old boys

IMG_8283 to women of all ages who were astonished and/or delighted to learn that female toplessness is as legal as the male variety.

IMG_8367If you’re astonished and/or delighted yourself and would like to give it a try, we’re just an email away (toplesspulpfiction@gmail.com), and we welcome inquiries from any bold, body-positive women in or visiting the New York area.

We’ve got eight weeks of summer left — don’t miss your chance to enjoy them the way they were meant to be: with liberty and justice for all.

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IMG_8434So, for the Fourth of July, we got a group together and headed down to Battery Park, in view of the Statue of Liberty, for a picnic on the grass. No better time for it, right? Statue of Liberty, Fourth of July. Enjoying our liberty to be topless outdoors, as established as a right under New York law some 24 years ago.

IMG_8164IMG_8176An hour or so into our blissful afternoon, these two uncomfortable-looking policewomen show up.

IMG_8237“We’ve had complaints. It’s the Fourth of July. There are children around.”

And?

“You can’t be naked here.”

We’re not naked. We’re covered from the waist down, just like the men in the park. We’re uncovered from the waist up, just like the men in the park.

“But…you can’t…”

Call your headquarters. Please. Talk to them. You’ll see. We promise, you’ll learn that you’re wrong. What we are doing is 100 percent legal. It has been since a court ruling in 1992, establishing that women and men have equal rights under the law, in this case the equal right to take our shirts off in a park on a hot summer day. Every time a police officer has forgotten this and arrested a woman for doing something that’s actually legal, the city winds up getting sued and it costs the city tens of thousands of dollars in damages–

“Are you trying to get these women arrested?”

No, officer. We’re trying to keep you from making a mistake that will embarrass you and cost the city a lot of money. Call your headquarters. Trust me. You won’t be sorry you did.

And…they did. Call headquarters. And then did, learn. They stood around with their backs to us for maybe twenty minutes while waiting for backup to arrive…

IMG_8226IMG_8231IMG_8225IMG_8238…but when backup did arrive — two uncomfortable-looking male police officers — they were told we were right. “They have the same right to take their shirts off that I do,” said one of the men, looking a little wistful standing in his heavy uniform under the July sun. “Has anyone bothered you?” he asked us. “Harassed you?”

Only the police, we said.

He nodded. Well, let us know if there’s any problem.

And off they plodded, to foil evildoers elsewhere.

IMG_8240A blow for liberty. A police force educated. A small victory, but one we shouldn’t have had to win, and that women shouldn’t have to keep fighting for over and over again. People sometimes ask us, “Why do you bother making such a big deal about the right to go topless in New York, where it’s already legal?” This is why.

Now, ignorance isn’t a crime. Not even ignorance of the law. Not even if you’re a police officer whose job is to enforce the law. And to these officers’ credit, they behaved politely throughout, if grimly, and when proven wrong, they conceded. Their sidearms stayed in their holsters throughout. But we shouldn’t have had to negotiate rights we already have with armed agents of the government. We really shouldn’t.

A little later, a late-arriving friend showed up and we told her about the excitement she had missed. Cops! In uniform! We heard handcuffs clanking as they approached! We didn’t know what was going to happen!

So what did you do? she asked.

We bribed them, we answered. With a little truth. Slipped them a bit of knowledge, under the table.

And…?

And we were left at liberty, we said.

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