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Reverend Billy Files $500k Claim for False Arrest and Defamation at Grand Central Vigil

Metropolitan Transit Authority spokesperson told media that Reverend “got physical” and “attacked police.”

(Photo: Erick McGregor)

Metropolitan Transit Authority spokesperson told media that Reverend “got physical” and “attacked police.”

Video, witnesses and DA’s charges oppose MTA.

New York, New York — In the midst of a 24-hour vigil honoring 170 unarmed civilians killed by police, activist-performer William Talen, also known as “Reverend Billy,” was arrested by Metropolitan Transportation Authority police while delivering a sermon in Grand Central Terminal. Talen has been charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction of governmental administration.

In the wake of his arrest, the MTA, through spokespersons, alleged that Talen “got physical with police commanders” and was “physically trying to block police officers.” Video of the interactions between Talen and MTA police show that Talen did not “get physical” with police officers.

Reports in the Gothamist, New York Post and Wall Street Journal could not find witnesses to corroborate the charge. At his court appearance, the District Attorney did not charge Talen with any form of violence, such as felony assault. The court released Talen on his own recognizance.

“Both the protesters and the police were peaceful that afternoon. So let’s say that. Don’t be anti-police and don’t be anti-protester. We have an epidemic of violence against black people. That’s the violence,” said Talen.

Talen’s attorneys, Wylie Stecklow and Samuel Cohen of Stecklow Cohen & Thompson, are seeking dismissal of the criminal charges levied against Talen. Talen’s attorneys have also filed a notice of intent to sue the MTA for false arrest, libel, slander, and other related claims on Mr. Talen’s behalf. 

Attorney Wylie Stecklow noted “Reverend Billy is known around the world as a peaceful advocate for the survival of the environment and justice for all. By falsely accusing him of attacking police, the MTA has branded him as a target and a threat to police, and have jeopardized his safety and harmed his reputation. The attorneys at Stecklow Cohen & Thompson are committed to clearing Reverend Billy’s name and seeking redress for the violation of his rights by the MTA.”

Attorney Samuel Cohen added “The charges against Reverend Billy are confounding. Reverend Billy was invited to speak in the twenty-third hour of a twenty-four hour vigil, and was arrested while speaking, essentially for doing the same things that other vigil participants had been doing for the past day without being arrested. That alone is offensive to due process. We look forward to vindicating Reverend Billy in the courts.”

William Talen is both an activist and a stage performer. As “Reverend Billy” he pursues these parallel careers with the 35-voice Stop Shopping Choir under the direction of Savitri D. Talen and company lead a movement of nonviolent dramatic action, belting out their freedom-fighting lyrics in JP Morgan Chase bank lobbies, Wal-marts and on the front lawn of Monsanto World Headquarters.

Talen and the Stop Shopping Choir are artists in residence at the Public Theater in New York. After two visits (and one arrest) in Ferguson, Missouri, they mounted their “Monsanto Is The Devil” sold-out run in Joe’s Pub at the Public. Talen and Savitri D live together with their daughter in Brooklyn, with many cops as neighbors. For more info, visit

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