The Motive in a Manhattan Shooting? The Statue of Liberty


There have been reports of a slashing; beatings, including one so severe a tourist suffered a fractured skull; and most recently, in April, a shooting that wounded two. The victims include other ticket sellers as well as tourists, the police and others say.

“I worry about it,” Mr. Fermin said of the potential for violence. “You don’t want to be caught up in those cross hairs.”

The police and politicians have a variety of explanations for the violence. Some point to ticket sellers recently released from prison or jail. Others place responsibility on the boat operators, saying they refuse to clamp down on aggressive sales practices.

Jessica Lappin, the president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, a business improvement district, said the men selling boat tickets seem “to be engaging in gang warfare over their turf.”

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Ticket sellers positioned themselves outside the Staten Island Ferry terminal this month. While the their vests highlight the Statue of Liberty, the boats do not stop there.

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Alex Wroblewski for The New York Times

“They make a lot of money down there,” Ms. Lappin added, “and they’ll defend it with knives and guns if they need to.”

It is not the first tourist-centric business to be hit by internecine violence. The Chinatown bus wars, more than a decade ago, were far deadlier. The competition to rent bicycles in Central Park became so tense that street fights broke out. There were so many troubling incidents involving costumed characters in Times Square and elsewhere — Spider-Man slugging a cop, Elmo launching into an obscenity-laced rant — that the city created zones in which characters must remain while soliciting tips.

The violence near Battery Park goes back about two years, and has occurred despite efforts by the authorities to clamp down. During some months, the police have made more than 20 arrests.

But tourists and passers-by still bristle at what they describe as aggressive and sometimes shady sales practices. Tourists are often sold tickets for boats that they believe are nearby, but that actually require a lengthy wait to ride a bus or van to another pier. Other tourists believe they will be able to get off at Liberty Island, only to learn later that the boat only loops around the island.

As Marc Dumay waited to board a boat on Saturday, he began to wonder if he had been scammed. Visiting from Boston, he had taken an Uber car to Lower Manhattan hoping to find a boat to take him close to the Statue of Liberty. Before he had a chance to step out of the car, he was surrounded by ticket sellers asking him, over and over, “You going to Liberty?”

“It was high pressure for me,” said Mr. Dumay, 44, who bought a boat ticket, still uncertain where the boat was headed.

“I still don’t know what we’re going to see,” he said. “He could’ve conned me.”

His cruise never approached the Statue of Liberty, instead heading north on the Hudson River to Midtown.

As inviting as the Statue of Liberty is, it is not as easily reached as one might imagine. The National Park Service contracts with a single line, Statue Cruises, to take passengers to Liberty Island. Tickets are sold at Castle Clinton, a red sandstone fort built to repel the British — hardly an obvious destination for tourists seeking a boat ride. Before finding their way there, many tourists are intercepted by pitchmen for other boats that typically loop around the island.

For some people that might be preferable. It means skipping the lengthy security lines that await tourists disembarking on Liberty Island, said Corey Etheridge, who runs a team of ticket sellers.

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Vests worn by ticket sellers often convey an official imprint. But the National Park Service contracts with only one line, Statue Cruises.

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Alex Wroblewski for The New York Times

Mr. Etheridge and his team are middle men, working for companies that buy thousands of heavily discounted boat tickets for resale. The police blame that arrangement for some of the aggressive and deceptive sales practices. Deputy Inspector Mark Iocco, commander of the First Precinct in Lower Manhattan, told a community meeting that the boat companies “sell tickets in bulk and wash their hands” of what follows, according to a report in a neighborhood newspaper, The Tribeca Trib.

The city has taken a number of steps to try to rein in the practice. A law passed last year requires ticket sellers to obtain a license that can be revoked if they are convicted of a crime while selling tickets. And some tour boat companies, facing criticism by the city or pressure in the news media, have agreed to regulate ticket sales better.

Companies that cut ties with certain middle men over the past year include Hornblower — the company New York City selected to operate a new citywide ferry system — and New York Water Taxi.

At the community meeting, Deputy Inspector Iocco identified New York Water Tours, which operates sightseeing cruises, and a boat called the Queen of Hearts as sources of many of the tickets sold on the street near the Battery, according to The Tribeca Trib.

Pietro Vuli, owner of the Queen of Hearts, said that people who sell tickets for his boat wear a standard uniform, wear identification on their chest, and behave appropriately. “I put a lot of people in work,” Mr. Vuli, a restaurateur, said. “If I thought for a split second I was doing harm to New York City, I would walk away.”

Jeff Mandel, the director of business development for New York Water Tours, said that using middlemen was not inherently problematic. “If someone comes to me to buy 5,000 tickets, I’m selling them 5,000 tickets,” he said.

”I don’t have the luxury to say, ‘Don’t sell tickets to this guy, this guy, or this guy,’” he added.

But Ms. Lappin of the Downtown Alliance cited the shooting last month and the growing number of hawkers as evidence that things have “gotten worse in the last year.”

Mr. Etheridge, who manages a team of ticket sellers, said: “When I first started, there were 10 guys. Now there are 110 guys.”

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