Traffic officer's holiday dance may come to an end after race protests

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 01, 2015 2:54 PM

By John Larrabee

PROVIDENCE (Reuters) - A former Rhode Island traffic officer's long tradition of coming out of retirement to dance while directing holiday shopping season traffic is expected to come to an end on Tuesday, after he orchestrated protests against civil rights activists.

The East Providence city council has scheduled an evening vote on whether to hire Tony Lepore, who for three decades entertained drivers in downtown Providence but became the subject of controversy after he organized October protests outside a Dunkin' Donuts where an employee wrote 'Black Lives Matter' on a coffee cup before handing it to an officer.

The Black Lives Matter movement, which has revived a heated debate on race and justice in the United States, grew out of protests that followed the police killings of black men in cities including Ferguson, Missouri, New York and Baltimore over the past year and a half.

Officials in Providence had previously said they would not hire Lepore this year. An East Providence city councilman suggested hiring him but a majority of the council have told reporters they plan to vote against hiring him after a group of protesters supporting Black Lives Matter rallied outside the city's Christmas tree lighting ceremony Sunday night.

"He's no longer about dancing," said Onna Moniz-John, one of the protest organizers. "He's become too associated with negativity and controversy. He's almost a poster child."

Lepore posted a message on his Facebook page indicating he believed the seasonal tradition may have come to an end. "You all know the issues that I have been involved in the last few weeks," he wrote. "Whatever happens during the holidays, I want to thank you for your support, friendship & the fun."

He did not respond to a request for comment.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Rigby)