The takeover of public space for commercial promotion may be offensive, but it is usually legal. Occasionally, however, it is not. On Friday, March 14, it bordered on the criminal.
That’s where I come in. I was the victim.
As a Times reporter, I tend to focus quickly on illegal marketing campaigns…. So I sensed a story on the evening of the 14th, when I came across two or three young men stapling posters for a new hip-hop album to lampposts, traffic signs and sidewalk scaffolding on Broadway, between 21st and 22nd Streets.
It is unlawful, the city’s administrative code says, for anyone to “attach or affix by any means whatsoever any handbill, poster, notice, sign” on lampposts, traffic signs and sign poles or “other such item or structure in any street.” signsThe sign-hanging team would place stacks of posters in wastebaskets at the street corners, then draw from that supply to cover nearby street fixtures.
I began photographing the poster operation. After about two minutes, one man asked me why I was taking pictures. “Because what you’re doing is illegal,” I replied. He answered, “Breaking cameras is illegal, too, but if you don’t stop taking pictures, I’ll break your camera.” He modified “camera” with an adjective I am not permitted to repeat here. I identified myself as a reporter from The Times. “I’ll break your camera,” he said, using that adjective again, “and you can print that in your paper.”
I distinctly remember thinking, “No, I can’t.” Then, rather than antagonize him further, I started taking pictures of the poster-covered scaffold pipes across Broadway.
The approach came so swiftly, I cannot even say whether it was from in front or behind. But I do remember a furious face inches away from mine as the man said he had warned me not to take any more pictures. The next few minutes are — as they say — a blur. I was suddenly on my back on the sidewalk, near the curb, trying to hold on to my camera and fend off my assailant, with my right leg pressed against his chest.
Note: Not to discourage you from trying to stop illegal advertising as it happens. Remember, when you see illegal ads call 311, if you see it happening in progress, call 911. It might seem extreme, but the laws for graffiti are extreme.