Method to the Madness of Arresting Philly Jesus?

Street performers can have a dark side. Philly should take a page from New York and consider regulating them.


As an attorney accuses the Philadelphia Police of “crucifying” the man known as Philly Jesus, further infuriating those who find the character’s whole act sacrilegious, there just might be some method to the madness behind arresting a guy dressed as the Son of God.

For a lesson in madness there is no better place to go than New York City, Times Square to be precise.

Have you been recently? It is a children’s fantasy nightmare straight out of a Fellini Film. People dressed like Elmo, Mickey and Minnie, Batman, Hello Kitty, Buzz and Woody stalk you and your children to take pictures. Sometimes there are as many as 80 of them and the costumes are just off enough, just dingy enough to make them a tad frightening. Imagine your childhood favorites recreated by Edvard Munch. And if you don’t tip them a few bucks, things can get out of hand fast.

New York law allows “street performers” to accept tips, but not solicit them. Sound familiar? That’s why Philly Jesus was cuffed in LOVE Park, for allegedly asking for money to take pictures.

I know it’s cool to support Michael Grant, aka Philly Jesus, with hashtags and social media indignation, but we should learn from the comic book chaos at 42nd and Broadway. If Philadelphia Police don’t crack down on the likes of Philly Jesus, he could attract a band of mooching apostles like Spiderman, Bert and Ernie. While Philly Jesus stays in character, preaching love and forgiveness — it is a wonderful homage — a quick trip up 95 reveals street performers who aren’t so holy.

In July, a video of Spiderman being arrested after punching a New York City police officer went viral.

In September, Spiderman was at it again, this time fighting with Batman. Turf wars between the street performers are common. Two Statue of Liberties were arrested this past summer for fighting. Lady Liberty and a robot were caught getting into it on camera in 2009.

In 2012, Elmo was arrested for a stream of profanities in an anti-Semitic rant in front of Toys R’ Us.

Super Mario was arrested for groping women in 2012. Yet another Spiderman was arrested for doing the same this past summer.

In 2013, Cookie Monster shoved a 2-year-old and called his mother obscene names when she didn’t give him a tip.

Police in New York have recently started an undercover crackdown on the characters threatening tourists for tips and even arrested Captain America for aggressive solicitation.

And if you don’t think what is happening in Times Square could move to LOVE Park, you apparently missed the story of Evil Elmo in San Francisco, who was arrested for viciously threatening those who get in his way of begging for tips. He took his act to the coast because he was getting to much heat in New York.

You see the possibilities now? It’s all fun and games until Elmo threatens to rip your throat out.

New York City Council is now considering legislation to license the Times Square Street performers. They would have to wear an ID tag with their real names displayed. The fear is that child predators, other perverts, or God forbid, a terrorist could use the cover of Grover to carry out dirty deeds.

Philadelphia has a long tradition of street performers, or historical re-enactors, at Independence Hall. But the National Park Service strictly controls the characters, so Ben Franklin has never strong-armed a tourist for a tip; George Washington has never punched Thomas Jefferson.

But the rules at LOVE Park are a little less clear. It seems police ignore those begging for money unless they are dressed as the Savior.

Philly Jesus has gone national. Like it or not, he has become a brand, a commodity. Why shouldn’t he, ahem, prophet from his hard work and commitment to his character?

However, Evil Elmo could be close behind. Philadelphia City Council should follow New York’s lead and license Philly Jesus and his possible followers, before we get a bad Buzz or an unwanted Woody.

Follow @LarryMendte on Twitter.