Last October, the Reverend Billy was arrested for preaching into a megaphone inside a branch of Chase Bank in Midtown Manhattan. He'd been accompanied by a gang of golden frogs -- the first known species to become extinct as the direct result of climate change. The frogs and the Reverend were there to call attention, through singing and dancing, to Chase Bank’s ranking as the largest lender in the world for new coal plant construction.
Reverend Billy -- an activist and performance artist actually named Bill Talen -- is no stranger to arrest, but what happened next was unusual. Instead of the usual order to do community service, the District Attorney of the City of New York charged Talen and the group’s choir director, Nehemiah Luckett, with riot in the second degree, menacing in the third degree, unlawful assembly, and two counts of disorderly conduct. The Chase branch manager had told the DA’s office that he had mistaken the protest for a robbery, and that several bank customers and employees were reduced to tears by the experience. The two now risked serving up to a year in prison.
The next court date for the duo is Feb. 27. But in the meantime, the prosecution changed its charges and offered a new sentencing recommendation -- one day of community service for Talen, and six months of not getting arrested for Luckett -- if both agreed to plead guilty.
What happened in the meantime, and why did the prosecution change their tune? Talen recently answered my questions over the phone.
Q. Well, first things first. Are you going to plead guilty?
A. Hell no.