- Associated Press - Thursday, November 18, 2010

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Batman, Superman and other superheroes have a federal judge’s approval to perform on the streets of Hollywood.

Judge Dean Pregerson issued a ruling Wednesday that blocks what he calls selective police enforcement targeting Hollywood Boulevard’s costumed characters, who solicit tips in exchange for pictures with tourists.

Pregerson wrote that although a costumed performance may not be a traditional form of speech, it is a constitutionally protected one.

“I think if cops want to do their job correctly, go find a real criminal,” Michael Jackson impersonator Sean Vezina said Thursday.

Reports of aggressive panhandling and even fights involving unlicensed street performers led to a crackdown in May and June that resulted in about two dozen arrests for crimes that included blocking the sidewalk.

Since then, some performers said police have repeatedly ordered them away on threat of arrest _ although on any given day a Superman, Spiderman and Capt. Jack Sparrow can still be seen preening and flexing.

“This is a cultural activity,” said Fikret Sahin, 40, a Turkish immigrant who studies music at Los Angeles City College and occasionally poses as Yoda from “Star Wars.”

The injunction was issued in a lawsuit brought by some characters.

Police had not decided whether to appeal the injunction. Officers stepped up their presence after numerous complaints from business owners and the public that costumed performers had made violent threats against tourists who refused to hand over cash after snapping photos, said LAPD Hollywood area Sgt. Robert McDonald.

“It is all fun and games as long as they are just standing there,” McDonald said. “But in the past they have assaulted them when they have refused to give money.”

Vezina, who has been a Jackson impersonator for six years, said he takes pains not to be aggressive when asking for tips.

Yet on Wednesday, an officer still told him to “beat it,” he said.

Vezina said there have been times when police have made legitimate arrests.

Another Batman was celebrating his birthday and got drunk, and a Shrek performer got into a fight with a homeless man, Vezina said.

But Vezina said he mainly views street performers as offering a valuable service. Outside of stars’ cement footprints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood Boulevard offers day visitors little more than stores, souvenirs and cheap eateries.

“It’s like a souvenir for the people,” said Jordi Bellon, a 26-year-old from Spain, peering through his black Zorro mask as he wielded a rose and a plastic sword outside Grauman’s.

Visitors seemed to agree.

“It’s kind of neat, having Zorro standing next to you,” said Yvonne Haug, 53, of Ontario, Canada. “It’s part of the experience… This is what we came to see.”

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AP writer Thomas Watkins in Los Angeles contributed to this report.