With Robert Ivko, age 14

Special thanks to Scott Luxor for the mentorship

Reverend Billy Talen and his Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, a protest performance group that emphasizes environmental consciousness in New York City, got into some hot water for a recent demonstration at Chase Bank in Midtown Manhattan.

In September, Reverend Billy, real name William Talen, and his choir were chanting and singing as they entered the bank to protest the bank’s financing of mountaintop removal for mining purposes. Many of the choir members were wearing costumes consisting of golden toad heads. The toad is an endangered species. For 15 minutes, the choir sang, and Reverend Billy preached about the, quote, “sins of the bank’s involvement and support of environmental degradation.”

According to VillageVoice.com, Billy and his choir director, Nehemiah Luckett, were charged with rioting in the second degree, menacing in the third degree, unlawful assembly and two counts of disorderly conduct. The punishment sought by the prosecutor had the potential of a year in prison.

Immediately afterward, Reverend Billy took to the social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to inform his followers about the charges leveled against him and the choir. Supporters quickly produced a Change.org petition calling for the charges to be dropped.

In a follow-up hearing on December 9th, however, the prosecution representing Chase Bank reduced the charges, as well as the recommended punishment. The new request for punishment calls for Reverend Billy to plead guilty to disorderly conduct and to serve one day of community service—a substantial reduction from the original charges.

IndyKids attended a recent performance by the choir at Joe’s Pub. During the performance, Reverend Billy spoke about his situation and what his choir stands for. The charismatic protester, who has a serious sense of humor, told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! that as upsetting as the charges have been for him, they haven’t been bad for attendance. This fact was clear from the sold-out show that we attended.

The next court date for Reverend Billy will be February 27th.

This is Robert for IndyKids.org.