So, 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.
An hour or so into our blissful afternoon, these two uncomfortable-looking policewomen show up.
“We’ve had complaints. It’s the Fourth of July. There are children around.”
“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.
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…
…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.
A 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 we were left at liberty, we said.