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Take a stroll around New York City without a shirt on, and you will probably be denied access to most of the stores in the area — as the saying goes, no shirt, no shoes, no service. But in New York, male or female, you probably won’t be arrested for not wearing a shirt. Insofar as males are concerned, this is probably obvious, as men go shirtless rather often. But for New York women, it’s also true: it’s perfectly legal for a woman to walk around in public without a top on. And the last time the New York City Police Department tried to prevent that, it cost the city nearly $30,000.

In 1992, two women from Rochester, New York, were arrested for removing their blouses, exposing their breasts, in a public park. They sued, claiming that the law which prevented them from doing so was discriminatory on the basis of their gender — after all, men are allowed to wear the same clothes without fear of arrest or citation. The case made it to the highest court in the state, the Court of Appeals, where they won. From that point on, women could bare all — from the waist up, at least — without fear of running foul of the law.

Unfortunately, not all the officers in the NYPD understood this. In 2005, a 25 year old woman went for a walk, topless, in Manhattan — and was arrested and brought into a holding cell by force.  She was released half a day later, but successfully sued the city for violating her civil rights, and walked away with a $29,000 judgment in her favor. The good news: The police department learned its lesson.  Last summer, a woman walked topless in Manhattan’s Bowery neighborhood, and despite being stopped by the police, was apparently not arrested nor given a citation. As the NYPD’s spokesperson told the Village Voice, “women have the same right as men to appear topless in public” and this lady’s choice to do so “did not appear to be a police matter.” And a few weeks later, the Voice engaged it its own experiment to test the police department’s knowlege of the law, sending a reporter into Central Park, topless.

The result? The topless reporter was stopped by an officer who knew of the law, but asked that the lady cover herself anyway, as it appeared that she had removed her shirt simply to attract attention.

Bonus fact: You can walk around New York without a shirt on, but don’t carry nunchuks — that’d be illegal. In fact, mere possession of nunchuks is illegal in the state. However, that question is before a New York court right now. In 2000, a telephone repair man accused a guy named James Maloney of pointing a rifle at him on a repair call. The police searched Maloney’s home and found no rifle, but did find some pistols (licensed and legally owned) and a set of nunchuks.  He was cited for the ownership of the latter.  Maloney, though, is a lawyer — he sued, claiming a Second Amendment right to own the weapon. He lost but succesfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court (!) to have his case re-opened (bottom of page 1); the case is currently in front of the federal appeals court in New York.

From the ArchivesRosie, Riveter: Find yourself arrested for public nudity or possessing nunchuks?  Perhaps you will want the comfort of a courthouse dog.  (Not really — Rosie is there to comfort complaining witnesses, not the accused.)

Related: “Stupid Laws of New York,” a 99 cent Kindle eBook, to date, unreviewed.

Originally published

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