Law have mercy!
A Windsor-Terrace activist and performance artist is suing the Metropolitan Transit Authority, claiming its officers ran roughshod over his God-given rights as an American by arresting him for a peaceful, legal protest at a Manhattan subway station earlier this year.
“My First Amendment rights to freedom of expression were completely violated,” said Rev. Billy Talen, who takes on the persona of a southern preacher to sermonize against the many-horned demon of consumerism and other social ills — which have in the past included the Atlantic Yards development and the closure of Coney’s Astroland amusement park.
Talen filed a federal suit on Friday, claiming the transit authority not only violated his constitutional freedom by silencing his protest, but also falsely arrested him and then defamed him by publicly suggesting he had assaulted authorities first.
The hell-fire and brimstone dissident says he was two minutes into a sermon at an anti-police-brutality rally inside the concourse of Grand Central Station on Jan. 6, when transit cops — alongside law enforcers from the New York Police Department and homeland security — descended on the gathering and took him away in cuffs to spend a night behind bars.
As a political activist who often engages in civil disobedience, Talen accepts spending time in the slammer as part of his career. But this was not an act of civil disobedience, said his lawyer — Talen was merely an exercising free speech in a public place, and authorities targeted him as a high-profile rabble-rouser.
In fact, Talen’s sermon came near the end of a 24-hour vigil commemorating black civilians killed by police officers that kicked off at 5 pm on Jan. 5, and it wasn’t until the following day at 1 pm that cops swooped in to silence the firebrand, his attorney said.
“[Grand Central Station] is a modern-day public square. He was engaging commuters, engaging citizens, and not blocking anybody,” said lawyer Wylie Stecklow. “This is a very well protected First Amendment activity and for no other reason than it was Reverend Billy they decided to take him away in cuffs.”
After the incident, a transit authority spokesman told the media that protestors at the event had “got physical” with police — which Talen believes falsely implied he had acted violently.
“There was nothing violent from me, no bad words, no tension in my arms or my hands,” said Talen, who ran for mayor in 2009 but garnered less than 1 percent of the city’s vote.
Footage of the arrest appears to show the preacher complying peacefully as police clap him in irons.
The incident took place shortly after a deranged gunman killed two police officers in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which was a particularly bad time to have a reputation as someone who violently attacks authorities, said Stecklow.
“To claim he is a threat, when the police are on edge and he deals with police all the time, you are putting that figurative target on his back, and that is just not okay,” he said. “The MTA needs to be more responsible.”
The transit authority declined to comment.