In the cold of February, as New York City police officers gathered for their daily orders at roll call, they were given a rather unusual command, for both its timing and its substance: If they happened upon a topless woman, they were not to arrest her.
The command was read at 10 consecutive roll calls. Each of the city’s 34,000 officers, in theory, got the message: For “simply exposing their breasts in public,” women are guilty of no crime.
Whether any officer encountered such a brave-hearted, bare-chested soul is not clear, nor is the reason for the Police Department’s concern about such matters in the dead of winter. One possible explanation lies in the person of Holly Van Voast, a Bronx photographer and performance artist known for baring her breasts.
The order was disclosed in an official memorandum contained in a federal lawsuit Ms. Van Voast filed on Wednesday against the city and the department. The memo makes clear that bare-breasted women should not be cited for public lewdness, indecent exposure or any other section of the penal law.
Even if the topless display draws a lot of attention, officers are to “give a lawful order to disperse the entire crowd and take enforcement action” against those who do not comply, the memo says. “Whether the individuals are clothed is not a factor in making a determination about whether the above-mentioned crowd conditions exist.”
The suit lists 10 episodes in 2011 and 2012 in which the police detained, arrested or issued summonses to Ms. Van Voast, 46, for baring her breasts at sites that included the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal, in front of a Manhattan elementary school, on the A train and outside a Hooters restaurant in Midtown. That last episode, the suit says, ended with her being taken by the police to a nearby hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
Each complaint against her was dismissed or dropped, her lawyers said, for one simple reason: The state’s highest court ruled more than two decades ago that baring one’s chest in public — for noncommercial activity — is perfectly legal for a woman, as it is for a man.
But when Ms. Van Voast’s top came off again this year, her lawyers said, what had seemed to be an annual rite of spring did not follow. “I was aware that they stopped telling her to put a shirt on, stopped arresting her, stopped carting her off to mental institutions,” Ronald L. Kuby, one of her lawyers, said. “But I was not aware why.”
Last year I was sitting at my desk when the internet went out, so I packed my shit up and posted up at Starbucks in Union Sq. I’m writing scripts for this commercial when BAM a fat pair of titties post up outside the window. Not bad fat titties… Like AWESOME titties. The craziest shit was there were cops standing right across the street and didn’t come at her at all. I was mad confused. Fast forward to today when I read this NYTimes article and now it makes sense.
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