By JONATHAN BISSONNETTE
PAWTUCKET – Tony Lepore, a Pawtucket resident known as “The Dancing Cop,” says a scheduled presentation at the Pawtucket Public Library next month has been canceled, with library officials telling him they were concerned about the safety of children because of the possibility of a protest.
Lepore says opposition to his event were simply a political ploy.
“This whole thing started with Providence 2½ years ago, it’s just going on and on that I’m a racist,” he said. “No one bothered me for two years, now it’s an election season. They’re using it as a platform … Why did they let it go for two or three years, now all of a sudden they’re using it?”
A person who answered the phone at the library said that Library Director Susan Reed was declining to comment but verified the program was canceled.
The event, scheduled for April vacation at the library, was one of Lepore’s indoor shows, which he said consists of “how I became ‘The Dancing Cop.’”
“I get a bunch of kids up, we dance, I talk about safety and exercise, it’s about an hour show,” he said. “It has nothing to do with politics, I don’t mix politics in anything I do. They just don’t like me having any kind of an opinion of any kind.”
Lepore said he’ll still be paid by the library, but he said that’s “not the point.”
“The point is they follow me everywhere, they’re trying to ruin my reputation,” he said of his opponents. “I’ve got a big following. The library said they got a lot of great calls and a lot of resistance calls.”
Criticism of Lepore’s scheduled event in Pawtucket surfaced in a March 3 letter printed in The Times, and signed by three Pawtucket City Councilors – District 5 Councilor Meghan E. Kallman, District 6 Councilor Timothy P. Rudd Jr., and At-Large Councilor Sandra C. Cano.
In the letter they registered their collective “dismay” that Lepore was engaged by the library and suggested he should not be permitted to speak there.
Lepore has been dancing since 1984. He retired from the Providence Police Department in 1989 but gained popularity in the years that followed when he showed off his dance moves while directing downtown traffic during the holidays. In addition to his shows, he’s also been seen dancing at parades across Rhode Island.
Lepore in November 2015 was let go from his holiday dancing gig in Providence after he organized a protest of a local Dunkin’ Donuts, where an employee had written “#BlackLivesMatter” on an officer’s coffee cup the previous month. Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare at the time said Lepore gave the inaccurate impression that he represented the position of the department and that he was not authorized to speak on the department’s behalf.
In the letter in The Times, the council members said that Lepore has made “divisive and racist comments.”
Lepore on Wednesday said he has no frustration with the library, saying he can understand if they’re worried about the children’s safety in the event of a protest. He most recently participated in a similar show at the Pawtucket Public Library three years ago.
“If anything happened, I would also feel responsible in a way, that’s the situation I’m in all the time,” Lepore said, labeling his opponents as a “so-called resistance group.”
“They’re a bunch of bullies, they bully almost everything I do, they bully the people that hire me...” he said. “I don’t think they would have protested, I think they’re bluffing, but when there’s children involved, I could see why the library was concerned about it.”
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