At the end of July 2003, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals took its Holocaust On Your Plate campaign to grounds of the state capitol in Bismarck, North Dakota. Unlike other PETA appearances, however, there was an organized anti-PETA demonstration there to greet the PETA display.
A group of ranchers and farmers showed up to taunt the PETA activists. One individual, for example, offered a hamburger to PETA Holocaust On Your Plate point-man Matthew Prescott.
The protest by the farmers and ranchers was organized by farmer Marty Beard, 34, who told the Associated Press that he thought PETA’s comparison of farming to the Holocaust was ridiculous.
Beyond the taunting, however, Prescott claimed that the farmers damaged the Holocaust On Your Plate display. Prescott told the Associated Press that the display had been sliced several times with a knife, doing about $1,000 in damages to the display.
This led PETA lawyer Matthew Penzer to fire off a letter in August to Col. James Hughes, superintendent of the North Dakota Highway Patrol, demanding an investigation of the incident.
IÂ’m writing to address a recent incident that is disturbing to PETA, not only because of the incident itself, but because of the casual and irresponsible way it was apparently handled by state police officers at the scene. On July 31, a PETA representative was at the North Dakota Capitol Grounds to conduct a demonstration, for which he had a lawful permit. It is reported that the highway patrol knew of the heightened need for peace-keeping efforts at the event, because the facilities director of the Capitol Grounds notified your department approximately 60 days in advance in order to prevent potential trouble while the demo was being staged. The event, which addressed the abuses of animals on factory farms, did, in fact, draw the ire of a large beef industry-supporting “mob.” Yet, despite the fact that the gathering crowd did not have a permit to stage a counter-demonstration (or to light the open-flame grills that they had brought with them), and despite the fact that the facilities director was reportedly concerned that he had never seen a situation as “lively” as this at the Grounds, I am informed that the officers on hand neither stopped the crowdÂ’s actions nor took appropriate action to calm the increasingly agitated atmosphere. Even when the unruly men encircled our representative and hurled epithets at him — one angry member of the mob even threatened his life — the officers did not disperse or control them.
Fortunately, our representative escaped physical harm, however, PETAÂ’s property did not. The display that was used as part of the demonstration was slashed — presumably with a knife — causing more than $500 damage. Yet, despite this property damage, despite the threats of physical harm to our representative, despite the facilities rules and state laws that were violated by the hostile protestors, my understanding is that not a single arrest was made, nor even a single statement taken or police report filed. It is unclear whether the Capitol Grounds surveillance camera tapes were even reviewed to appropriately investigate the criminal conduct that occurred.
We are disheartened and concerned that the police officers, who had a responsibility to protect not only the public, but the basic freedoms this country is founded upon, apparently willfully disregarded the responsibilities of their positions and, in doing so, jeopardized the safety of our representative and our property. We hope and expect that you find such failure to act as inexcusable and intolerable as we do and that you will immediately launch an investigation into the criminal conduct that occurred at the demonstration and the conduct of the officers involved.
We believe that, had the officers at the scene properly executed their duties, the danger to PETAÂ’s representative and the damage to our property would have been avoided. We now expect an appropriate investigation and resolution of this matter by your office. Please contact me upon receipt of this letter so that we can address this matter quickly and amicably and without the need for further action. Thank you.
That letter was apparently referred on to North Dakota’s risk management agency for further investigation. Johanna Zschomler, director of North Dakota’s risk management agency, responded in a letter to Penzer that there was no evidence that police had acted as PETA described.
As far as the claims that the farmers and ranchers damaged the Holocaust display, the Associated Press reported that,
Zschomler said in her letter that surveillance videotape did not back up those claims. She said PETA could file a claim, but that “our findings would probably be a denial.”
Imagine that. Hard to believe PETA might distort and exaggerate events, isn’t it?
State denies PETA claims of damage during protest. Associated Press, September 11, 2003.
Animal rights group gets hostile reception. Associated Press, July 31, 2003.
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