I just received a rather astonishing e-mail from theatre publicist Blake Zidell about Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping choir director being charged with five counts that could result in up to a year in jail. Prosecutors also asked for $30,000 in bail, but the court seems to have rejected that.
Whatever his faults, Bill Talen is an invaluable voice in contemporary theatre, performance, and protest. This is a clear overreach by the prosecution, and continues a trend in NY and around the country of suppressing the right to assembly, the freedom of speech, and the centrality of protest and dissent to civil discourse.
Full press release, preceded by a note from Blake, below.
On the eve of a run of shows by Reverend Billy & The Stop Shopping Choir, at Joe's Pub Nov 24 - Dec 22, the Reverend (William Talen) and his music director, Neremiah Luckett, are facing a year in prison and $30k bail. Criminal charges are for a recent performance the Choir, costumed as extinct toads, gave in a JP Morgan Chase bank in Manhattan.
The performance was part of a series of actions by the Choir in bank branches, protesting banks' role in financing CO2-emitting industries. In these actions, the singers inhabit the character of Golden Toads, a small amphibian forced into extinction by extreme climate change in Central America in the late 80s. Throughout the 15-minute surprise performance at Chase, the choir sang their song “We Surround You,” which is dedicated to threatened animals in the era of climate change. Reverend Billy preached a short sermon based on research showing Chase Bank to be the world's top disrupter of the atmosphere by its investments in fossil fuel industrial projects. After the performance, the choir and Reverend Billy left the bank and entered the subway. Police apprehended them on the F Train platform.
A media advisory is below.
For Immediate Release
October 31, 2013
REVEREND BILLY AND CHURCH OF STOP SHOPPING MUSIC DIRECTOR NEREMIAH LUCKETT FACE ONE YEAR IN PRISON AND $30K BAIL
FOR PERFORMANCE IN CHASE BANK
Dressed as Extinct Toads, Stop Shopping Choir Gives Weekly Services
in Bank Branches in NYC to Raise Awareness about
Banks’ Role in Climate Destruction
Shows November 24–December 22 at Joe’s Pub, Featuring Material from
35-Member Choir and 5-Piece Not Buying It Band’s New Album, Earthalujah!
Prosecutors are demanding a year in prison and $30k bail for William Talen (aka Reverend Billy) and Nehemiah Luckett, Music Director of the Reverend’s Church of Stop Shopping, for a recent performance the Stop Shopping Choir, costumed as extinct toads, gave in a JP Morgan Chase bank in Manhattan. The 15-minute performance in the Chase Bank has earned criminal charges of “Riot,” “Menacing” and “Unlawful Assembly.”
Talen and Luckett, with downtown Civil Rights lawyer Wylie Stecklow of Stecklow, Cohen and Thompson, were startled to hear the Assistant DA ask Judge Felicia Mennin for a full year in prison for Mr. Talen’s role as the comic preacher who led extinct animals into the JPMorgan Chase Bank at 56th and 6th Ave in Manhattan on Thursday, September 12th.
The "performance" was by the Stop Shopping Choir and the progressive televangelist Reverend Billy. Protesting the bank's role in financing CO2-emitting industries, the singers inhabit the character of Golden Toads, a small amphibian forced into extinction by extreme climate change in Central America in the late 80s. Throughout the 15-minute surprise performance, the choir sang their song “We Surround You,” which is dedicated to threatened animals in the era of climate change. Reverend Billy preached a short sermon based on research showing Chase Bank to be the world's top disrupter of the atmosphere by its investments in fossil fuel industrial projects. After the performance, the choir and Reverend Billy left the bank and entered the subway. Police apprehended them on the F Train platform.
At the Midtown Community Court appearance before Judge Mennin, the Assistant DA refused the insistence by the plaintiffs that bank workers on the scene were advised that "This was expressive politics and will be concluded shortly." The ADA called the performance "A criminal stunt" and further submitted to the court that Mr. Talen has been arrested in California, Washington DC and New Hampshire.
Lawyer Wylie Stecklow defended the action as “expressive speech activity protected by the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution” and pointed out that, similarly, at Rev. Billy’s very last Bank arrest, two years earlier, the NYPD also overcharged the conduct as misdemeanors due to NYPD policy (and NY Criminal Procedure Law 140.10) that does not allow for non-criminal arrests that occur outside the presence of the NYPD. This prior arrest occurred after a protest in the UBS bank, at 58th and 5th Ave, when Rev. Billy and the Stop Shopping singers were asking UBS to reconsider ties to mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. After a bench trial, Judge James Burke found Talen innocent on all charges, throwing out charges of trespassing and resisting arrest.
The prosecution on Monday presented a five-count complaint and in Court accused Reverend Billy and Mr. Luckett of being violent criminals rather than recognizing them as global climate change activists involved in protected speech activity. Talen and Luckett plead not guilty on all counts. The Court denied the request for bail and released both defendants on their own recognizance. The matter was adjourned until December 9 for trial.
Reverend Billy & The Stop Shopping Choir will perform material from their new album, Earthalujah!, in the thick of the holiday shopping season, November 24–December 22 at Joe’s Pub at The Public (425 Lafayette St, NYC). Shows will take place at 2:30 p.m. on five consecutive Sundays: November 24 and December 1, 8, 15 and 22. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at www.joespub.com or212.967.7555.
About Reverend Billy
Reverend Billy has won an OBIE Award, the Alpert Award, The Dramalogue Award and The Historic Districts Council's Preservation Award (for leading demonstrations to save Manhattan's Poe House), and has been jailed more than 50 times. He was a central figure of Occupy Wall Street and toured 25 OWS tent communities from Zurich to Oakland, CA with the Stop Shopping Choir. He has run for New York City mayor on the Green Party ticket. Reverend Billy has released three CDs, three documentary films, published two books, and produced eight 28-minute television shows as part of the The Last Televangelist on cable and community access TV stations across the country. The Reverend is a frequent guest of news media, having appeared on The Today Show, CBS Evening News, Nightline, Fox News, Al-Jazeera, Glenn Beck, Hannity & Colmes, Democracy Now, NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Marketplace,” Geraldo Rivera, CNN, The Tavis Smiley Show, The BBC World Service, BBC 1 and numerous other local and regional affiliates and International print outlets.
About the Stop Shopping Choir
The Stop Shopping Choir is an all-ages, 35-member singing group, under the direction of Savitri D, with musical director Nehemiah Luckett and lead singer Laura Newman. The choir represents a diverse array of economic, ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds and has members from every continent except Antarctica, which they're working on. Among them are scientists, teachers, artists, therapists, welders, cyclists, builders, developers, hairdressers, dog walkers, actors, truck drivers, tech geeks, scholars and executives. The Choir has toured in Europe, Africa, South America and throughout North America. They are the subject of Morgan Spurlock’s second feature film, What Would Jesus Buy?
About The Church of Stop Shopping
The Church of Stop Shopping is a New York City based radical performance community, with 50 performing members and a congregation in the thousands. They are wild anti-consumerist gospel shouters and earth loving urban activists who have worked with communities on four continents defending land, life and imagination from reckless development and the extractive imperatives of global capital. They employ multiple tactics and creative strategies, including cash register exorcisms, retail interventions, cell phone operas combined with grass roots organizing and media activism. They are entertainers and artists, performing regularly throughout the US and Europe. Over the years, Reverend Billy has canonized Joan Baez, Kurt Vonnegut, Daniel Elsberg, Justin Vivian Bond, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Tim DeChristopher, Bertha Lewis, the Yes Men, Dr. Benjamin Barber and Jennifer Miller the Bearded Lady into "Fabulous Sainthood" in the Church of Stop Shopping.
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