On the first Spring-like Sunday of 2003, kids at the Astor Place Kmart were treated to an unusual sight: the Easter Bunny getting cuffed by New York City cops. Amy Hamilton-Thibert, a 28-year-old mother from Astoria, Queens, came to the "Big K" in a bunny outfit to protest the sale of military-themed Easter baskets she had read about in a Village Voice article.
Kmart, among other national retailers, sells Easter baskets in which the traditional chocolate bunny has been replaced by toys including plastic soldiers armed with machine guns, rifles, grenades, and knives. The Voice was tipped off to the coming protest in an e-mail from parties calling themselves the Easterbunny Liberation Organization and Friends of Chocolate Bunnies. A search on the e-mail address identified Hamilton-Thibert, a writer who's also a participant in an anarchist and activist message board, as the sender.
"This is the first time I've chosen to actively commit civil disobedience in a very obvious, solitary way. I have no regrets. I'm absolutely pleased with the outcome," she said of her first arrest. She is charged with trespassing, according to the district attorney's office. The violation can carry 15 days imprisonment (five less for good behavior), a fine, or a combination of the two, according to Hamilton-Thibert's Legal Aid Society defense lawyer, Simone A. Levine.
photo: Erik Baard
Hamilton-Thibertdressed in a lilac sweater fringed with cellophane grass, white pants, plush slippers, a stuffed "cottontail" and fuzzy white rabbit earswas at first mistaken by some passersby and security guards for an employee of the store. When she produced a cardboard sign reading, "Someone's in my Easter basket ... and it's G.I. Joe!!," she was greeted with quiet words of support from staff and security. She remained next to a display inside the front door for most of the time between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m., occasionally straying to the basket section on the second floor. She was sometimes accompanied by one of two friends who identified themselves only as Erica and Jamie.
"Guns are for war and killing people. Easter baskets are for eggs and for bunnies," Hamilton-Thibert said, speaking softly to children who approached her. Her own two-year-old daughter was in a stroller beside her. She handed out plastic eggs with a printed explanation of her protest inside. "Don't you think it's strange to have guns and soldiers in an Easter Basket?"
After talking to Hamilton-Thibert, plainclothes security guard Thomas Scott walked around the first floor removing the military-themed baskets. "We didn't notice the guns, and that's a good thing to point out with everything happening in the world. These must have been shelved by the overnight workers. I don't think the corporate office knows they're here," he said. "I'll put them on [a manager's desk] and see what she says." Local residents say those baskets were back on shelves by evening.
photo: Erik Baard
Wallgreens pulled its toy soldier baskets in response to the outcry of Christian leaders and a U.S. Army spokesperson. Kmart's spokesperson, Abigail Jacobs, defends the baskets as inoffensive, as evidenced by their popularity. A store manager, Jodi Sherman, called the police to remove Hamilton-Thibert. The protest did indirectly cause one disruption, as a group of children bolted out the door clutching unpurchased baskets. When hauled back inside by security, they insisted, "The bunny lady said we could have them." Guards, who watched Hamilton-Thibert, dismissed that claim as the children sullenly shambled away.
The two arriving police officers from the Ninth Precinct were reluctant to arrest Hamilton-Thibert, whose friend Erica discreetly led her daughter away, to return to her father should there be an arrest. The officers called in their superior, Sgt. David Chang, who pleaded, "Please protest outside. I can empathize; I have an eight-year-old kid myself and I wouldn't want him to play with this, but they are revoking your permission to be here," he said. "Don't make me do this."
When, in a quiet discussion, she refused to leave with the officers, Chang insisted that Sherman come to the front of the store to publicly declare he wanted an arrest, preferably "on tape."
"She's not welcome here. We didn't want her to begin with," Sherman said. The manager then leapt in front of Hamilton-Thibert's associate, Jamie, with a hand extended and demanding that he stop digitally recording the event from near the revolving doors. Chang ordered Sherman back. "He can turn his camera on if he wants to. Don't start jumping in peoples' faces," Chang said, later explaining to the Voice that while the manager was within his rights to demand that the camera be turned off, his aggressive move raised the chance of a peaceful protest turning into a physical confrontation.
photo: Erik Baard
Hamilton-Thibert didn't resist arrest, but identified herself only as "Miss Bunny" until arriving at the precinct house on Avenue C. She was arraigned and released on Monday afternoon. Her court date is April 14. Kmart spokesperson Abigail Jacobs didn't say if the company would continue to press charges.
Hamilton-Thibert is planning a new protest at the Astor Place Kmart this weekend, organized through Mothers for Militant Action, or MOMA. But she also hopes to "find a different, creative route instead of re-creating exact same protest. I have a lot of contacts with activist moms across the United States."
Related Article: "Full Metal Bonnet: Retailers Put All Their Grenades in One Basket" by Erik Baard
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