LOS ANGELES (AP) - Batman, Superman and other superheroes have a federal judge'sapproval to perform on the streets of Hollywood.
Judge Dean Pregerson issued a ruling Wednesday that blocks whathe calls selective police enforcement targeting HollywoodBoulevard's costumed characters, who solicit tips in exchange forpictures with tourists.
Pregerson wrote that although a costumed performance may not bea traditional form of speech, it is a constitutionally protectedone.
"I think if cops want to do their job correctly, go find a realcriminal," Michael Jackson impersonator Sean Vezina saidThursday.
Reports of aggressive panhandling and even fights involvingunlicensed street performers led to a crackdown in May and Junethat resulted in about two dozen arrests for crimes that includedblocking the sidewalk.
Since then, some performers said police have repeatedly orderedthem away on threat of arrest - although on any given day aSuperman, Spider-Man and Capt. Jack Sparrow can still be seenpreening and flexing.
"This is a cultural activity," said Fikret Sahin, 40, a Turkishimmigrant who studies music at Los Angeles City College andoccasionally poses as Yoda from "Star Wars."
The injunction was issued in a lawsuit brought by somecharacters.
Police had not decided whether to appeal the injunction.Officers stepped up their presence after numerous complaints frombusiness owners and the public that costumed performers had madeviolent threats against tourists who refused to hand over cashafter snapping photos, said LAPD Hollywood area Sgt. RobertMcDonald.
"It is all fun and games as long as they are just standingthere," McDonald said. "But in the past they have assaulted themwhen they have refused to give money."
Vezina, who has been a Jackson impersonator for six years, saidhe takes pains not to be aggressive when asking for tips.
Yet on Wednesday, an officer still told him to "beat it," hesaid.
Vezina said there have been times when police have madelegitimate arrests.
Another Batman was celebrating his birthday and got drunk, and aShrek performer got into a fight with a homeless man, Vezinasaid.
But Vezina said he mainly views street performers as offering avaluable service. Outside of stars' cement footprints in front ofGrauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood Boulevard offers day visitorslittle more than stores, souvenirs and cheap eateries.
"It's like a souvenir for the people," said Jordi Bellon, a26-year-old from Spain, peering through his black Zorro mask as hewielded a rose and a plastic sword outside Grauman's.
Visitors seemed to agree.
"It's kind of neat, having Zorro standing next to you," saidYvonne Haug, 53, of Ontario, Canada. "It's part of theexperience... This is what we came to see."
AP writer Thomas Watkins in Los Angeles contributed to thisreport.