The Rev. Al Sharpton led a peaceful civil disobedience demonstration in the Theatre District on Tues., April 18 that was at times loud, yet clearly as organized as the police response that was put in place to deal with it.
Sharpton's group numbered as many as 200. They began demonstrating at 5 PM on April 18 at the recruitment island in Times Square and spent almost two-and-half-hours engaged in a lively series of answerbacks including such phrases as "No Justice, No Peace" and "Amadou," for the slain, unarmed immigrant shot by the NYPD.
Police brass were not concerned with the situation and one supervising officer indicated that the demonstration, compared to other events like the New Year's Eve festivities in Times Square, presented relatively little challenge.
The demonstrators gathered on one side of pedestrian barriers. They were protesting police brutality and campaigning for federal monitoring of the NYPD. On the other side of that line, at least three separate policemen had the same answer when separate passersby asked them to explain who the crowd was protesting: "Us," the officers all replied.
After 7 PM, designated members of the Sharpton protest split into three groups. One went to the Golden Theatre (Jackie Mason), another to the Minskoff (Saturday Night Fever) and a third group went to the New Amsterdam (The Lion King) which is not running Tuesday performances at this time. Police arrested a total of 20 people; eight at the Golden Theatre and 12 at the Minskoff. Police said as many as half those taken into custody were women, many of whom seemed to be well into their 40's or 50's. At the Minskoff, where the bulk of the arrests were made, demonstrators were cited for civil disobedience, which involved small groups of protestors linking their arms together and standing in front of the doors to the theatre while chanting, "No justice, no peace" and "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired." Other entrances at the Minskoff were kept clear and theatre patrons streamed into the house while watching the demonstration.
Sharpton arrived at the recruitment island close to 6 PM and spoke to the crowd at length. When the individual protest cells dispersed to their assigned theaters, Sharpton joined the group going to the New Amsterdam (The Lion King) where demonstrators made noise, though police made no arrests (there being no show to disrupt).
Wally Rubin, of the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, was on hand for the New Amsterdam demonstration and stood across from the theatre at SFX's Ford Center for the Performing Arts while waiting there to see Jesus Christ Superstar. "They shouted a bit, but the police just escorted Rev. Sharpton [west] down the block," Rubin told Playbill On Line.
Box office staff at the Broadhurst and the Booth theaters said they had received no special instructions concerning the protest, which the NYPD predicted would focus on Shubert Alley.
-- By Murdoch McBride