A former Rhode Island traffic officer’s 30-year tradition of dancing while directing holiday shopping season traffic came to an end on Tuesday when East Providence officials decided against hiring him, after he orchestrated protests against civil rights activists.
The East Providence city council on Tuesday canceled a planned evening vote on whether to employ Tony Lepore for a traffic-directing job.
For three decades, Lepore entertained drivers in downtown Providence where he is known for swiveling his hips and stepping in rhythm as he blows his whistle.
But he 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. Lepore called for the employee to be fired.
“With the controversy, it was decided this would not be beneficial to anyone,” said Timothy Conley, one of East Providence’s five council members, on Tuesday.
Lepore had previously been turned down for a traffic-directing job by the police department in neighboring Providence. That city’s police commissioner, Steven Pare, said Lepore gave an inaccurate impression that his position on the incident represented that of the city’s police.
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.
East Providence officials began to back away from a plan to take Lepore on 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.
He later said in a phone interview that he planned to meet with a lawyer to discuss a possible lawsuit against the city of Providence and Black Lives Matter protesters.
“If I don’t have these jobs, it could be tough to survive,” he said. “If they’re threatening to protest everywhere I go, it could be tough to get work.”
(Reporting by John Larrabee; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Editing by Scott Malone, Bill Rigby and Steve Orlofsky)