Update: Here’s overhead camera video from WABC-TV of the Hug Thug punching a girl in the face in Times Square earlier this week.
I live 3000 miles away, but even I have been hearing for years, both from the media and through the grapevine when I visited New York a few years ago, about this psycho, who turns out to be named Jermaine (a.k.a., Jeremy) Himmelstein, who goes to tourist destinations like Times Square and Washington Square, holds up a “Free Hugs” sign, and then often slugs girls in the face if they say no or won’t give him money.
For example, the New York Times ran one of its classic upside down articles about this dangerous loon back in 2013. As I’ve pointed out before, the NYT often write its articles in the reverse order of relevance, saving what’s interesting and important only for those who stick it out through the soporific opening paragraphs. I think the idea is to not disturb the worldviews of the Nice People who subscribe to the Times, while allowing its reporters to eventually do what they want to do: report the news to the hard core of readers who are actually interested in news rather than in just having their self-image buffed. For example:
The Hugs Are Free, as Advertised, but Not Always Welcome
By MICHAEL WILSON APRIL 26, 2013
The sign is simple, eight big letters on a piece of cardboard, but when Jermaine Himmelstein takes it outside and holds it over his head and smiles, it acts like a strong magnet.
Total strangers smile back, and walk over and wrap the skinny young man in a quick embrace. Then they walk away, and someone else, drawn by the smile and the eight letters, steps up, arms outstretched.
The sign reads, “Free Hugs.” Mr. Himmelstein, 21, has been carrying it to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village for months.
“I give out free hugs,” he explained, “to make people stay better.” When somebody wants a picture of a hug in progress, he asks for a dollar in return, shoving the bills into a back pocket.
Viewed this way, one fleeting hug at a time, the enterprise seems harmless enough, even charming, and Mr. Himmelstein seems a welcome addition to New York City’s cast of colorful characters.
Okay, the Nice People have probably stopped reading the article by now and so the poor reporter can finally move on to reporting the actual news, which is that there’s a maniac loose on the streets of Manhattan who punches female passer-bys and nobody in authority is willing to do what it takes to get him off the streets:
But closer inspection darkens that portrait.
Mr. Himmelstein can become glowering and intense in an instant. His playful banter turns badgering when he is told no, as he was after approaching a group of New York University students on a bench on Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m a germaphobe,” a freshman named Claudia, 18, told Mr. Himmelstein as a way to get rid of him.
But he kept coming back and offering hugs, over and over. She said out of his earshot: “I don’t like him. He’s aggressive.”
Another student, Estelle, 22, said complaints about Mr. Himmelstein were not uncommon. “He’s like a legend at our school,” she said.
His parents, Denise and Tyrone Himmelstein, both 49, live in the Jefferson Houses in East Harlem, and until recently had no idea that this was what Jermaine did when he left the house. They thought he was with friends. Not becoming a creepy legend.
“This is not what I wanted for my son,” Ms. Himmelstein said on Thursday. “We don’t condone this.”
Jermaine, like their older son, is autistic, she said. He graduated from Washington Irving High School last June at age 20, and she proudly displayed his diploma for a visitor this week while Jermaine was out.
He is a good young man when he’s home, she said, and he does not want for money or affection.
“Jermaine comes from a home where we give him hugs,” she said. …
Jermaine Himmelstein keeps a rigid schedule, and is always home by 8:30 p.m., so his parents worried when, on April 9, the hour came and went with no word.
Shortly before 3 p.m. that day, a female student from N.Y.U. entered the park, and Mr. Himmelstein approached with his sign.
“She says, ‘I have a boyfriend,’ and this and that,” Mr. Himmelstein recalled in the park this week. “Thinking I’m desperate, having no friends,” he became upset, he said.
“I went and got a can out of the trash and filled it with water and I marched right back to her and threw it right in her face until her face was swollen,” he said. “Then I got a cup of ice coffee and I threw it at her.”
The can hurt the woman’s cheek, the police said, and Mr. Himmelstein was arrested and charged with assault.
“I’m a little bit disappointed in me,” he said this week, and tried explaining what had set him off. “ ‘No, thanks,’ is the better thing. I don’t like just ‘No.’ ” …
Now, that was in the New York Times three years ago, yet this guy stayed on the streets, punching girls. From the New York Daily News yesterday:
BY EDGAR SANDOVAL GRAHAM RAYMAN THOMAS TRACY
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Friday, May 13, 2016, 9:34 AM
He usually charges about $5 for hugs, but the punches are apparently free!
A 24-year-old wacko who offers hugs for tips in Times Square clocked a 22-year-old Canadian tourist when she refused to give him any cash on Thursday, officials said.
“Free Hugs Guy” Jermaine Himmelstein socked the woman in the right eye following an 11 a.m. clash outside the T-Mobile store on Broadway near W. 45th St.
The young woman and a friend were walking through Times Square when Himmelstein approached, holding a sign reading “FREE HUGS.”
Himmelstein embraced one of the women and took a photo, but began throwing fists when they wouldn’t fork over any loot, cops said. He punched his victim, identified by police sources as Sophie Violene Dauvois, and ran off down Seventh Ave.
Dauvois suffered a swollen and bloody black eye and was taken to St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital for treatment.
Himmelstein disappeared into Times Square, but was located and arrested about four hours later, charged with robbery and assault. He was grabbed by a sharp-eyed NYPD recruit who was in uniform and armed with the perp’s photograph, police sources said. …
The hug thug began showing off his love of embraces in 2013 when he began offering quick squeezes for a dollar in Washington Square Park and Greenwich Village, according to a New York Times profile of Himmelstein.
On an average day, he makes up to $30 an hour.
He sounds pretty rational to me.
NYPD Chief of Department James O’Neill said Himmelstein “is no stranger” to the department. He’s been arrested 16 times since 2012.
Okay … but nobody can stop him for long from slugging young women on the streets of Manhattan?
He was busted for tossing a can of soda at a woman who refused to hug him in Washington Square Park in 2013. The can bruised her face. He was also accused of punching a woman in the face on the Coney Island boardwalk last year.
The New York Post today reveals Himmelstein has now confessed to punching another young woman late last month, but was allowed to remain on the streets, despite the victim’s complaint to the authorities, until he did it again yesterday. From the New York Post today:
By Rebecca Rosenberg May 13, 2016 | 2:57pm
A “free hug” panhandler who punched a female tourist Thursday after she refused to tip him admitted to cops that he had socked another woman in a subway station last month after she declined an embrace, court papers show.
Jermaine Himmelstein, 24, was standing near the entrance of the 49th Street N/R station April 29 wearing a “free hug” sign when the woman rushed passed him and into the station.
“You will respect me when I knock you out,” barked Himmelstein as he struck her in the face causing “substantial pain and a bump to her head,” the complaint states.
“I offered a hug to the girl, she said no and walked away,” the “free hug” thug confessed to cops after they picked him up on the later May 12 assault.
“I observed the girl going down into the subway system, and I hid my cardboard sign behind a pole. I followed the girl into the subway system, sucker punched her, and then I jumped over the turnstile and ran away.”
He was arraigned Friday on both cases in Manhattan Criminal Court and is being held on $5,000 bail. He faces raps for assault, fraudulent accosting and harassment.
Or will he be released to do it again like the last 15 times?
The NY Daily News adds a crucial detail about his slugging the young woman in April:
Himmelstein’s victim reported the attack, but the Manhattan man wasn’t arrested for last month’s attack until he punched Sophie Violene Dauvois on Thursday.
This seems to me like a real scandal that ought to raise serious questions about what our society should do to keep violent pests from repeatedly attacking young women. And who in authority should be held accountable for not dealing with this guy’s extremely conspicuous reign of terror?
Update: Here’s a video shot in Times Square in October 2013, a half year after the NYT article about Himmelstein, starting immediately after a Bloomberg Era cop ripped up the sign of the Hug Thug (in grey), and then a social justice warrior (in black) interceded on his behalf:
Update: Putin’s Russia Today plays it as a sob story about cruel budget cuts:
Jermaine Himmelstein is well known in the Big Apple as the “Free Hugs Guy,” and because of the low level of financial support given to Americans struggling with mental health issues, he relies on tips in exchange for photographs to survive.