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"There's justice, then there's street justice."
March 5, 2014 9:47 AM   Subscribe

Street kids take justice into their own hands when "Bad Elmo" returns to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf.

Elmo impersonator Dan Sandler, "Bad Elmo," first gained notoriety in New York City's Central Park for his anti-Semitic outbursts in June of 2012. After picking up operations and moving to the West Coast in fall of 2012, Bad Elmo was arrested and extradited back to New York on charges of practicing extortion against the Girl Scouts of America. Sandler plead guilty and received a 1-year sentence for the charge.

A year in the hoosegow was apparently not enough to change his Bad Elmo ways. Sandler has been arrested in SF recently for aggressive panhandling but so far these charges are not enough for police to bar him from the wharf. So juveniles described by reporters as "street kids" have taken matters into their own hands, harassing Sandler and facing arrest themselves for their efforts to convince the former owner of the Cambodian porn site "Rape Camp" that he is unwelcome.

Previously
posted by drlith (55 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wharf?
posted by mochapickle at 9:57 AM on March 5 [21 favorites]


So wait, New York and San Francisco just have a pipeline for exporting street performers to each other?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:30 AM on March 5 [9 favorites]


So, these "street kids" don't like the guy and take it upon themselves to *threaten him with knife* because, essentially, he's standing on the street? Sure, the guy seems kinda creepy, but that doesn't mean you can just threaten to stab him.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:33 AM on March 5


Who's gonna produce the musical?

"The Lovable Wharf Rats versus Bad Elmo. On ice!"
posted by ocschwar at 10:34 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]


So wait, New York and San Francisco just have a pipeline for exporting street performers to each other?

Yes, but it's frequently blocked by groups of mimes making "trapped" gestures.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:35 AM on March 5 [15 favorites]


Community is where you find it, and community standards sometimes get enforced by the community in surprising ways.
posted by davejay at 10:36 AM on March 5 [6 favorites]


Well, clearly they can. The more interesting question is whether they should, and then separate from that is whether it's legal.

Based primarily on the "Rape Camp" link, I think the dude should probably be forced to walk from New York to San Francisco at knifepoint for the rest of his life, preferably while wearing a sweaty Elmo suit, but yeah, it's probably still illegal to threaten someone with a knife.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:36 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]


Based primarily on the "Rape Camp" link, I think the dude should probably be forced to walk from New York to San Francisco at knifepoint for the rest of his life, preferably while wearing a sweaty Elmo suit

I hear Stephen King is working this into a few chapters of his next tome, except Bad Elmo has to make his way to Maine.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:39 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]


Hey look, it's the 2nd-worst Sandler in America.
posted by frogstar42 at 10:40 AM on March 5 [11 favorites]


So, these "street kids" don't like the guy and take it upon themselves to *threaten him with knife* because, essentially, he's standing on the street? Sure, the guy seems kinda creepy, but that doesn't mean you can just threaten to stab him.

Well, there's that, then there's the way that the police seem to have kind of conflated the knife-threatening with other clearly less objectionable behavior. Like, the kid that stood next to him with a "Rape-O" sign was taken in for a mental evaluation...? Given the guy's past, that street kid should be given a damn commendation. But the knife-wielder got away so they have to take someone in, or something.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:43 AM on March 5 [7 favorites]


I saw this guy get into a fight in Times Square in NYC a few years ago.
He is totally nuts. Screaming all these racist comments, and wildly swinging at the air.
Actually, it was all pretty hilarious.
posted by Flood at 10:44 AM on March 5


Although Sandler faced up to five years in jail in Cambodia for violating the law on human trafficking and sexual exploitation, United States officials intervened with the Cambodian Interior Ministry to assist him. U.S. officials arranged that he not be prosecuted, but deported. Sandler’s passport was stamped by Cambodian police to ban him from returning (Xinhua News Agency, 8 November 1999). U.S. officials accompanied him to the airport and the U.S. Embassy had no comment (Agence France Presse, 7 November 1999).

Good to see that US law enforcement's attitude towards violence against women has international reach.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:56 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


I never liked Elmo and I like Bad Elmo even less.
posted by jonmc at 10:56 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]


At a local mall playground months ago, my toddler son saw a person in an Elmo costume going into the men's room. The dude probably just finished up at a birthday party and was going into the restroom to change. With toddlers, it's pretty hit or miss whether or not they will like big costumed characters and with West it was definitely a MISS.

To this day, whenever we go to that play area or even near it, he wants to be updated as to whether or not Big Elmo is there. What will happen if he is there has changed over time - previously West would want to hide, but currently West just wants to shoot him with his Spider-Man webs and take him to jail.

So when I read this post, my mind replaces "Bad Elmo" with "Big Elmo" and "street kids" with "toddlers pretending to be Spider-Man." I imagine a poor birthday party entertainer instantly mobbed whenever he steps outside by a horde of small children waving their arms at him yelling 'ptschew-ptschew-ptschew' and 'Now You Are In Jail!' as he makes his slow way to his beat up Ford Escort. "Soon," he thinks to himself, "Soon, Barry you will have saved enough to move out of this dump."

A toddler then slaps the keys from his hand and pretends to web them to the ground.
Barry sighs and calls a locksmith.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:56 AM on March 5 [9 favorites]


He is mentally ill. I find it not funny.
posted by angrycat at 10:59 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]


How has the Children's Television Workshop not sued this guy into oblivion?
posted by scolbath at 11:01 AM on March 5


How has the Children's Television Workshop not sued this guy into oblivion?

Because "oblivion" would be about $20, if they were lucky.
posted by eriko at 11:03 AM on March 5


How has the Children's Television Workshop not sued this guy into oblivion?

Presumably they were paid a licensing fee by the costume manufacturer. Are you suggesting they should be able to regulate someone's behavior while in a costume they (presumably) paid for?
posted by dobbs at 11:14 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]


In San Francisco, Sandler has mostly been sighted on the weekends, posing for pictures in front of the It'Sugar candy store on Jefferson Street. A store manager said she could not comment without corporate approval, but staffers - all young women - said they were uncomfortable with him in front of the store.
So an apparent antisemitic, hate spewing, elmo rapist camps outside your shop and you, as a store manager can't leave a comment until you get corporate's approval? What is America coming to?
posted by joelf at 11:14 AM on March 5 [6 favorites]


So wait, New York and San Francisco just have a pipeline for exporting street performers to each other?

Do they still have street performers in NYC? I thought all the gentrified trillionaires kicked them out.
posted by Melismata at 11:15 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


So wait, New York and San Francisco just have a pipeline for exporting street performers to each other?

Wasn't this an Elon Musk project?
posted by sutt at 11:23 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


I thought all the gentrified trillionaires kicked them out.

I actually have dreams about the day Elmo and Mickey and Batman start roaming Bedford Avenue or showing up at Roberta's. Can't wait. But I admit, I will buy a 5 dollar iced coffee at Blue Bottle if it means I get to watch the parade.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:24 AM on March 5


Yeah, Greyhound has been the way we deal with mental illness for a while now.
posted by vapidave at 11:34 AM on March 5 [10 favorites]


Greyhound works fine until you see he was also arrested in Honolulu. Busking can apparently rake in enough to get airfare to and from Hawaii. Last I heard there is no maritime equivalent to Greyhound.
posted by Badgermann at 11:40 AM on March 5


How do you know it's all the same guy and not a bunch of people under the Elmoflage?
posted by Renoroc at 11:42 AM on March 5


So wait, New York and San Francisco just have a pipeline for exporting street performers to each other?

No, you're thinking of hot chicks and rich bros.
posted by Naberius at 11:44 AM on March 5


Many aspects of this situation trouble me, but it also makes me kind of wish that the guy who did the Sesame Street version of Sure Shot would do one for Street Justice.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:46 AM on March 5


Melismata: "Do they still have street performers in NYC?"

Some of them have gone underground and are currently bugging the crap out of people in subway stations.
posted by zarq at 12:02 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


In other SF Fisherman's Wharf Street Performer / Harasser news, one of two people who performed as the Bushman, Gregory Jacobs, recently died. (Previously)

On YouTube, videos of him live on.
posted by larrybob at 12:09 PM on March 5


Without the Elmo hook, this story is pretty much "Local Teens Threaten Mentally Ill Street Person." Not sure I would cheer for that one.
posted by Mid at 12:09 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


"Do they still have street performers in NYC?"

There are probably no fewer than five Elmos in Times Square as I write this. Blocking that area off to traffic (which I think was a good idea) basically turned it into the Museum of Living Pop-Up Ads.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:14 PM on March 5


Without the Elmo hook, this story is pretty much "Local Teens Threaten Mentally Ill Street Person former operator of Cambodian 'Rape Camp' and associated website."

Because, you know, there's still that.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:14 PM on March 5 [15 favorites]


The mentally ill can have websites and with squarespace it has never been easier.
posted by munchingzombie at 12:19 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Squarespace does not, as far as I know, actually assist you in setting up an actual camp in Cambodia for the production of rape porn. The dude had his own little vertically integrated enterprise, not just a website.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:29 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "So wait, New York and San Francisco just have a pipeline for exporting street performers to each other?"

They will occasionally slip one in between burritos.
posted by exogenous at 12:41 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


"The mentally ill can have websites and with squarespace it has never been easier."


Interesting approach for an ad campaign...
posted by stenseng at 12:44 PM on March 5


Squarespace does not, as far as I know, actually assist you in setting up an actual camp in Cambodia for the production of rape porn.

I'm going to go way out on a limb and say that Squarespace does not and will not do that.
posted by Area Man at 12:59 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Good thing we've switched to "community based" care for the mentally ill.

Most mentally ill people, and IANAPsy but I think this guy falls pretty comfortably into that circle, are not really dangerous.
Most harm comes from victimization and violence from people reacting to them.

Which seems to be by design.

Yes, he is (at the least) a rapist by proxy and I'm surprised he's not serving time somewhere for it. But law enforcement is another way we try to lay off social responsibility for these kinds of problems (what, 1/2 the transient prison population has a "DSM psychiatric and/or AODA diagnosis").
'Deserve' doesn't enter into it.
There's no reason the police should have to deal with a guy who hasn't been charged with anything more than public nuisance.
There's certainly no reason homeless teenagers should take it upon themselves to beat or kill someone that can't be controlled.

And yet, that's pretty much where were at. Someone is going to snap if this guy gets too close to their kids and really harm him or kill him (not that I'm unsympathetic) and that's going to be the solution since he figured out how not to starve to death.

Might as well put stones in people's hands (still pretty popular in Egypt and Pakistan) because the responsibility for taking care of this problem is already so diffuse, why bother to lie to ourselves about it?

Y'know, if you're really depressed and you decide to jump off a bridge or walk into traffic, it's easy to forget about the people on the street or the guy driving the bus and how it affects them.
But as a society, we shouldn't forget that. It's not that the mentally ill guy may be violent, it's that they may provoke a violent response (justified or not).

And we have much better tools for assessing what care and for how long, so institutionalization may not be that bad an idea.

It's better than dumping people in the street or just medicating the hell out of them. With the caveat that it's done well of course.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:01 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


He not only made the site, he trafficked women from Vietnam to Cambodia and offered to torture them on camera for money.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:11 PM on March 5 [7 favorites]


I agree that mentally ill people are usually not dangerous. However, this doesn't seem like the guy to use to make that point.
posted by Area Man at 1:22 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Just because someone is an obnoxious, anti semitic, creepy panhandler and a former (maybe) rapist porn producer and human trafficker, does NOT make him mentally ill. I'm not being facetious. Why do we constantly label people as mentally ill because their behavior is not socially acceptable? He's an asshole, but he clearly knows how to shakedown people for money and he obviously ran a business (albeit a distasteful one).
posted by Kokopuff at 1:40 PM on March 5 [5 favorites]


Just because someone is an obnoxious, anti semitic, creepy panhandler and a former (maybe) rapist porn producer and human trafficker, does NOT make him mentally ill. I'm not being facetious. Why do we constantly label people as mentally ill because their behavior is not socially acceptable? He's an asshole, but he clearly knows how to shakedown people for money and he obviously ran a business (albeit a distasteful one).

Let's flip that argument around, shall we? Just because he's high functioning enough to run a business and shake people down for money, and is a morally reprehensible, antisocial asshole, doesn't mean he's not also mentally ill.
posted by stenseng at 1:48 PM on March 5


zarq - some of the performers in the subway are ok. The Cagle Family, The Saw Lady, and You Bred Raptors are all fun.
posted by jonmc at 1:57 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


I've interacted with this guy directly at a previous place of work. He was doing court ordered community service and while he was not enthusiastic about the work, he did his job. He complained a lot about the courts but wasn't hostile or threatening at the time. People were definitely keeping an eye on him though due to his notoriety.

He'd been around the location before in costume fairly shortly before the Central Park Zoo incident (which was why he was doing community service) and when the NYTimes article came out with his photo in it, he was definitely on everyone's radar.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:12 PM on March 5


Greyhound works fine until you see he was also arrested in Honolulu. Busking can apparently rake in enough to get airfare to and from Hawaii.

I think that the idea was that someone sent him on a one-way trip to Hawai'i in the hopes that he'd stay there, and if you think that $250 (the cost of a one-way ticket from SF to Honolulu) is a lot of dough for someone to try to make a local nuisance someone else's problem, consider the time that person might spend being arrested and processed, cost of incarceration and ER visits, etc. There was a documentary titled Drunk in Public about one such guy who had racked up over 500 arrests for the title offense in California, and at one point he ends up in Honolulu. (Of course, the Honolulu cops can do the same thing.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:12 PM on March 5


Holy fucking hell the writeup/summary for this post is fucking awesome.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:41 PM on March 5


I have some insider info on this guy. His father was a rich guy in my home town. I actually very tenuously worked for Sandler Sr. Anyhoo, his family has money. I think this (the home town connection) makes me more sad than anything else over the spectacle of this guy, who is clearly unsafe but also unwell. It is also a little object lesson that you can be a rich person and sort of king of your little community and mental illness can come and bite you in the ass.
posted by angrycat at 8:55 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


(and the reason I bring up the money thing is, his family might be helping him out/enabling him/whatever)
posted by angrycat at 8:56 AM on March 6


I'm very skeptical of the whole Cambodian website thing. I don't doubt that Sandler had an offensive website where he claimed to offer all kinds of vile things, but I don't see anything that allows one to determine that he was actually doing these things versus just saying delusional and offensive stuff on the internet. The linked academic paper does not address this issue.
posted by Mid at 10:27 AM on March 6


Yes it does. There were actual trafficked women and substantial photographic evidence. I know that exploitation of poor women in porn is totally invented and violent misogyny is a crazy fiction so it might be hard to read words that are right in front of you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:25 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I'm happy to be corrected, but I beleive the academic paper just takes at face value the statements on the website about what Sandler said he was doing. I agree there seem to have been pictures, but it's pretty common for websites to copy images from other websites. I'm not saying that exploitation in general is invented - just that there is good reason to doubt this person's statements.
posted by Mid at 1:55 PM on March 6


A bit heavy-handed, the young rope-rider.
posted by Melismata at 1:57 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Contacted on Wednesday, Ms. Hughes remembered the article and Mr. Sandler well. She said that after the article was published, she received several e-mail and voice mail messages from a man identifying himself as Mr. Sandler.

“I was the man who produced the rape camp site,” the first e-mail began.

The messages were chilling. She forwarded several to The New York Times.

In one message, the man said he had had sex with a number of young girls in exchange for money in Cambodia.


That's from the first NY Times article. I suppose you can still argue that Sandler himself may be delusional, but it shows that his claims to have done horrible things were not limited to his website.
posted by Area Man at 2:01 PM on March 6


Totally agree the guy says he does vile things. But he's also a fabricator and his fabrications seem to center on specific themes.
posted by Mid at 2:40 PM on March 6


Just because someone is an obnoxious, anti semitic, creepy panhandler and a former (maybe) rapist porn producer and human trafficker, does NOT make him mentally ill.

His erratic behavior aside (that is, the non-anti-semitic stuff, not the obnoxiousness, or general creepiness, or (attempting?) to produce child pornography) but the stuff like alluding to child rape near children and flagrant violation of police orders, I suspect not being released from psychiatric evaluation is a big red flag.

I suspect the psychiatric evaluations saying he's mentally ill, make him mentally ill. I suspect the prosecutor in his last case saying he's mentally ill, make him mentally ill.
Or his defense attorney saying "his client has "mental health issues"" makes him mentally ill.

But even given he isn't, we also need social supports for homeless people so their - pretty tenuous - makeshift community doesn't fall apart because one guy is being a dick.

What we're really doing is just hoping they die off or commit a bad enough crime to be tossed in jail. That's the practical upshot of the way things are now.

It'd be nice to be able to avoid that kind of thing. Particularly since some people on some medication go off on rare, but spectacular, occasion.

If a big chunk of my tax bill went to safe areas and more enlightened asylums instead of jails I'd be happy as a clam.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:53 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


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