Campaign Is Halted
For N.Y.C.’s Perennial Protester
From Garfield merchandisers to the makers of hair-ball remedies, those with entrepreneurial flair have happily exploited the passion-some might call it insanity-of cat lovers. But few have done so as boldly, according to the NYPD, as a woman who was arrested at the corner of 86th Street and Second Avenue on Oct. 28.
The suspect had been manning a table at that location and asking people to sign a petition to help “homeless cats.” Surely no one could condemn such a worthy cause. But there was a hitch: The woman wouldn’t let passers-by sign the petition unless they first donated money to her campaign, according to the complaint filed by 14 men and women who were asked to pay the toll.
Several of the complainants also brought the situation to the attention of Police Officer Timothy Spies, whose foot post includes that area. To get to the bottom of the issue, Officer Spies did a little homework and discovered that the feline-loving organization the woman claimed to represent was nonexistent. “Homeless Cats is not a registered charity, nor is the defendant a registered lobbyist,” explained a police official.
But that small detail didn’t stop the suspect from carrying on her one-woman protest. “Upon asking for paperwork on the organization,” the police complaint read, “defendant said she was not responsible for carrying any. Upon asking for address and phone number, she said there is no address and phone number because they are in the process of moving, but had no idea where they are moving to.”
The cat champion continued her lobbying campaign at the 19th Precinct station house, where (no doubt prompted by the cops’ unwanted attentions) she delivered a handwritten letter on lined yellow paper accusing Officer Spies of not being knowledgeable “of our First Amendment rights.”
The suspect is not unknown to Manhattan pedestrians. Indeed, one might even describe her as something of a New York City landmark. For years, she has set up her folding table at different locations across Manhattan, including the southeast corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue, where she used to chain-smoke and rail against pornography with the memorable cry, “Fight back ladies! Sign the petition!” “Apparently the pornography didn’t sell, so she became an advocate for homeless cats,” explained a police official.
However, her landmark status didn’t prevent the cops from arresting her at 6:50 p.m. on Oct. 28 for scheming to defraud the public.
Chemical spills-not of the sort that make the evening news and cause Midwestern residents to relocate to shelters, but the kind that happen in high-school or college labs-don’t usually require a response by police and firefighters. Then again, we live in strange times.
On Nov. 6, the police responded to just such a minor spill at Hunter College, at 695 Park Avenue. The incident occurred around 11:35 a.m., when a student working in a 14th-floor lab spilled one millimeter of bromine (a chemical element used in photography and for making dyes, among other things) and suffered a burn. The incident prompted a call to 911. The police responded and, in turn, summoned the Fire Department, which sent over a HazMat team.
The HazMat team evacuated the 14th floor while they inspected it. Traffic was blocked by fire and police vehicles on 68th Street between Park and Lexington avenues for approximately 20 minutes.
Hunter College personnel, while undoubtedly appreciative of all the attention, nonetheless informed the uniformed forces that “in the course of the school year, such small spills routinely occur and are cleaned without requesting the response of emergency personnel,” according to the police.
However, the police replied-perhaps a tad defensively-that it wasn’t the spill that caused them to scramble their troops so much as the report of injuries. The victim, an 18-year-old female Flushing resident, was removed to Lenox Hill Hospital, where she was treated.
“Casing the joint” prior to committing a robbery can rise to the level of art for some crooks. But few pull the maneuver as thoroughly or elaborately as the trio of crooks who visited Nelly’s Fine Jewelry at 1718 First Avenue on Oct. 28.
The perps first visited the store about a week earlier to have two wedding bands and an engagement ring engraved-at least, that was the ruse. When they returned to pick up their valuables, one of the suspects, described as a 32-year-old male, tried to pay the $45 charge with $5 bills, of which he had many, a store worker told the police. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with currency in small denominations. However, the man returned about 15 minutes later with a woman and complained that the diamond on one of the rings had been scratched.
The two departed and then returned once again about two hours later; this time the man was carrying a 2- or 3-year-old child in his arms, griping again about the diamond and demanding that the ring be polished. They were told to return at 5:30 p.m. The real purpose of their visit, the staff would soon discover, was to scope out the layout of the place and determine the most opportune moment to attack.
At approximately 4:45 p.m., another male entered the store, asked to have a necklace polished, and was also told to return at 5:30. However, he was back about 10 minutes later, and not because he had a poor sense of time. He grabbed one of the employees around the neck, put a gun to her head and stated, “Don’t look back. Don’t move!” Then, apparently referring to her co-workers: “If they shout, I’m going to shoot you.”
Right behind him was the man and woman who had been in the store earlier (though the baby was no longer on the scene). At that point, the woman went behind the counter and started putting jewelry into a bag-and not just the few trinkets they’d left to be polished. In all, they absconded with $500,000 worth of assorted jewelry before fleeing northbound on First Avenue in a blue sedan. Police canvassed the area, with negative results .
Ralph Gardner Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.