PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A second city on Tuesday withdrew its invitation for Rhode Island's "Dancing Cop" to direct holiday traffic because of his activism against the Black Lives Matter movement. The retired officer responded by blasting the head of the Providence NAACP and threatening to sue his detractors for defamation.
East Providence Mayor Thomas Rose called Tony Lepore on Tuesday morning to tell him city leaders did not support his planned performance, Lepore said. A City Council vote that had been scheduled for Tuesday evening was canceled.
Lepore, who retired from the Providence Police Department in 1989, has been directing traffic with dance moves since 1984. His act became a holiday tradition in Providence. But city officials told Lepore last month they were letting him go after he organized a small protest outside a coffee shop where a worker wrote "#blacklivesmatter" on another officer's cup.
Officials in neighboring East Providence then invited Lepore to perform, but that sparked a protest attended by dozens of people, including Providence NAACP President Jim Vincent.
Both men said Tuesday they are longtime friends who know each other because they film TV shows in the same studio, and both said they were shocked by the other's actions.
Lepore told WPRO-AM that Vincent should be embarrassed.
"You don't represent what Martin Luther King Jr. wanted your organization to be," he said.
Vincent responded by saying in an interview that he is saddened by the situation. He said police relations with communities are tenuous throughout the country, and that he and others have worked with police to make sure Rhode Island doesn't become the next Ferguson, Missouri.
"He would be the last person I would think that would cause harm and division in the community, which is basically what he did," Vincent said. "We don't need anything to make things worse. He made things worse. He ended up being divisive, maybe unintentionally."
He called it a "wise decision" to rescind Lepore's invitation in East Providence.
Lepore said in an interview later Tuesday that while he disagrees with Vincent, he has no hard feelings toward him. But he said he wants to sue the city of Providence "and whoever else my lawyer wants to go after" for defamation of character.
"They're trying to say I'm a racist," Lepore said.
The controversy hurt his business, he said, and he worried appearances he had been invited to in 2016 would dry up. But he said he does not regret his coffee shop protest.