To the Editor:
My wife and I live in Chelsea. We love to take walks along the High Line. However, over the past few years there has been a growing problem which is ruining our peaceful enjoyment of those walks. The problem is every time we take our stroll we are aggressively approached by many Asian men dressed as Buddhist monks who hand people what look like little Buddhist prayer cards. They then take people by the arm in a forceful manner and attempt to place a beaded bracelet on their wrists. Next they ask for money by saying the word “donation” in a very thick Asian accent.
These people are not Buddhist monks. They are imposters! At least people (except for kids) know that the Times Square characters of Spiderman, Elmo, etc. are in costume, but many people think that these men on the High Line are real Buddhist monks. This is outrageous!
Today we were approached and I was grabbed by one of these phonies. He tried to place a bracelet on my wrist. He smelled of beer and his hands were filthy. My wife and I were very upset and felt very violated because he touched me. I pulled away from him and we walked away from him. We came upon three Park Rangers and told them what had happened to us. A Ranger told us it has been a long-running problem, but legally there was nothing he could do. He said it was a freedom of speech issue and that these phony monks were protected by the First Amendment. I said I did not think that the First Amendment made it OK for this imposter to grab and touch people.
We continued our walk and within the next 10 to 15 minutes we were approached by four more aggressive monk imposters! They were like locusts! One of them put his hand on my shoulder! I was so taken off guard, I almost punched him in self defense!
These deceptive, so-called men of the cloth approach locals and trusting tourists who do not know that these fake monks are running a scam. One after another, they are plucking unsuspecting people who let their guard down due to the peaceful tranquility the Highline provides, which makes people feel like they are in a safe place. People are giving money to what they believe is a bonafide charitable religion. This is in itself appalling! It seems the Parks Department has good control over homeless people loitering or sleeping in the various sitting areas and there are no street performers around either. So why are these schemers allowed to roam free scamming and harassing innocent people?
Is it not against the law for a person to impersonate men of the cloth, police officers, a doctor, etc. for the purpose to deceive others? I also thought it was illegal to touch someone without their permission.
What is it going to take to finally rid the beautiful High Line of these ugly panhandling imposters? They ruin it for the locals and visitors alike. Perhaps a solution is to pass out fliers and post notices, in several languages, at all High Line entrances. Fliers informing the public that the monks are not actual Buddhist monks, that they are simply people wearing Buddhist monk costumes. Then at least people can decide if they want to give a so-called “donation” to them. If we make people aware of what these guys are really doing and people stop giving them money, eventually the phony monks will stop coming to the High Line when they realize that the people are on to their scam and there is no more money to be made there. Problem solved.