By Katie Rogers
New York Times
NEW YORK >> A naked man who taunted and spat at the police from atop the TKTS booth in Times Square became a rush-hour distraction and a social media spectacle for nearly an hour Thursday as bystanders recorded video of his antics before he fell about three stories from his perch.
The 21-year-old man, whom the police did not immediately identify, was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center, where he was in stable condition after breaking his arm, the authorities said.
When the man is released from the hospital, he is expected to be charged with indecent exposure, the police said.
The neon-lit backdrop of Times Square has long been a hotbed for nudity in the name of art and the titillation (or consternation) of tourists, with figures like the Naked Cowboy, the Naked Cowgirl and desnudas ever present.
But the ubiquity of social media — particularly Periscope, a live video app — turned the episode from a police confrontation with an apparently disturbed person into a viral entertainment event open to public discussion.
The police attempted to keep throngs of tourists and others from stopping and gawking at the man, who gesticulated, lunged and spat at several officers who climbed the booth during the lengthy confrontation.
Robert K. Boyce, the chief of detectives for the New York Police Department, described the man as “emotionally disturbed,” and said that police officers tried for nearly an hour to persuade him to come down. The police set up two air bags for a safe landing, but he purposefully avoided them when he jumped, Boyce said.
“This man obviously intended to hurt himself,” Boyce said.
Jason Smith, a photographer who lives nearby, said that at least one of the officers pleaded with bystanders to leave the area, but the efforts were futile: People wandered near or rode Citi Bikes as close as they could.
Smith, who watched the scene unfold for 30 minutes, said that at one point the man had shouted, “Where’s Donald Trump?”
“From what I could tell,” Smith, 46, said, “the crowd was thinking it was funny for a while, and then it got a little more serious as time went on that he was a little mentally ill possibly.”
One Periscope user, Wesley Ahlgren, had a clear vantage point of the confrontation from a south-facing building near the booth and recorded 47 minutes of hectic live video.
After 42 minutes, the man tried to run past an officer as he attempted to grab his arm. The man then fell and landed on the concrete pavement below — a few feet away from an air bag.
On the video, people can be heard shrieking. But they kept watching.
Another observer, Chappell Ellison, said that the scene had prompted her to use Periscope for the first time. Eventually, Ellison appeared to absorb the gravity of what she was seeing.
“Might stop watching,” she tweeted. “Worried I might see a human fall off a building.”
Officer Arlene Muniz of the Police Department said the man was conscious and alert after the fall.