A. Robert Kaufman arrived at Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Tuesday night to be honored for his decades-long battle for civil rights. But he left in handcuffs, charged with staging an illegal protest against a contributor to the concert hall who runs a company accused of discrimination.
Kaufman, a 67-year-old Baltimorean who is running for mayor in this year's election, was attending the Meyerhoff's annual Martin Luther King Jr. concert as a guest of the concert hall. He was on a list to receive a certificate recognizing his contributions to the community as a civil rights activist with the NAACP, the Baltimore Rainbow Coalition, the City Wide Coalition and other organizations.
The evening went awry when Kaufman left the building and began handing out fliers that told people of a civil rights lawsuit against Crown Central Petroleum.
According to the fliers, the suit alleges that the gasoline company discriminated against African Americans and women in hiring and promotions throughout the South.
The company denies the allegations.
Joseph Coale, a spokesman for Crown, said the case is a labor dispute between the gasoline company and the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union.
Part of the reason Kaufman said he staged the protest at the Meyerhoff is that Henry Rosenberg, Crown's chief executive officer, is a major contributor to the concert hall.
The Meyerhoff's manager and city police told Kaufman repeatedly that the Meyerhoff was private property and that he had to move his protest. When he refused to move, police arrested him and charged him with trespassing, disturbing the peace and failure to obey police. He could be sentenced to up to five months in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted.
Kaufman said he was on the sidewalk, which he believes is public property. So he refused to stop his protest.
"The irony is they invited me there for my efforts to fight intolerance and their own intolerance is unbelievable," Kaufman said.
Gregory Tucker, a spokesman for the Meyerhoff, said that the Meyerhoff's manager did tell Kaufman about the hall's policy against distribution of leaflets on the hall's property, but he did not call for Kaufman's arrest.
Police took him to the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Facility, where he was held for about six hours. Kaufman was released on his own recognizance at about 6 a.m. on the condition he stay off the Meyerhoff property.
"I think that every candidate for mayor ought to spend a night in jail for the experience," Kaufman said. "Conditions there really have to be changed. It's so crowded you have to sit on the floor."
Pub Date: 1/14/99