No Compromise Interviews Tony Wong

photo of Tony Wong

No Compromise: What led to your arrest and imprisonment on Fur Free Friday?

Tony Wong: On May 19th, 1996 for a similar day of action against Federated Department Stores (owns Lazarus, Macy's, etc.), 8 activists were arrested, 6 of whom were U-locked together, blockading the mall entrance to Lazarus. Me and three other "juvenile" activists were convicted of tresspass and disorderly conduct and "given" 3 months probation, $800 in restitution and fines (a portion for Lazarus), a court order not to be in contact with the other 7 arrestees and 100 hours of community service to be finished within the 3 month period.

Realizing that probation is nothing more than the criminal (in)justice system's attempt to silence and intimidate activists from fighting against murder and profit, three of us told the judge we would "defy probation because it is unjust."

We decided later that we hadn't made our position clear enough in court and three of us sent signed letters to the judge, prosecutor and probation department stating our intentions on NOT taking probation and NOT paying any money to the repressive, authoritarian system or the animal torturers (Lazarus).

We recieved no response. Obviously, they did not take us seriously.

Then came Fur Free Friday. The Indianapolis Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade and Animal Defense League rushed the main parking-lot entrance to the mall that Lazarus is in. Forty activists blocked the entrance while four U-locked themselves to each other and laid in the middle of the road. After an hour-and-a-half of panic for the mall and Lazarus, the fire dept. cut the locks off with a circular saw. At the same time, 10 others were illegally arrested for standing on property designated by the police as 'okay'.

In all, four of the people arrested, including two adults, had refused probation from May 19th. We chose to excercise our constitutional rights without fear and now the courts would have to take us more seriously.

Some of the adult activists were forced to spend the night in jail. All the juveniles - except me - were released within hours of being processed. I was to stay overnight until a pretrial hearing the next day.

All the jailed activists went on hungerstrike to protest our imprisonment and show our group solidarity.

The next day, Judge Cartmel decided to lock me up for violating the probation I refused to follow in the first place. I was supposed to be held for 28 days total, until a discovery hearing on Dec. 27.

I was released after 12 days on hunger strike.

NC: Why did you refuse probation and other restrictions?

TW: When you accept and follow probation, you agree to follow all THEIR rules, rules which maintain the staus quo and guarantee the continuance and protection of the exploitation, brutalization and murder of human and non-human animals and the environment - all so the few greedy capitalists can profit. And if, legally or not, you are arrested or ticketted for anything, you have violated your probation and will suffer additional, more severe consequences. This is all done without ever proving you broke a law.

This is how the fear comes into play: you will be much less likely to go to a protest and risk the POSSIBILTY of being arrested (and it happens illegally ALL the time) on probation. Therefore, your freedom of speech and protest are severely impeded.

Additionally, why be punished for a crime you did not commit? I have broken no laws, but the animal abusers have. THEY are the criminals. This is why we refuse these restrictions on our civil liberties. We must not forfeit our rights for doing what's right.

When an individual participates in civil disobedience, they choose to follow their conscience and fight for freedom according to their own laws. The government's laws don't protect the animals, so we must.

As for the communtiy service, 100 hours is too much for 3 months. I don't mind getting out and helping out in the community, but 100 hours is only meant to keep me from taking action for animals.

NC: You spent those twelve days on hunger strike. Why were you put in the position where you felt the need to take this course of action?

TW: The first few days I was bombarded by inquiries from inmates and officials as to why I was refusing to eat. At first, I wasn't sure how to respond. I had read about and been inspired by the LA3's hungerstrike, among many others, yet I viewed the hunger strike as not much more than a means of getting out of prison. I didn't realize its complete importance until I was placed in the position myself.

The more I answered their questions with "I will refuse to eat until I am released," the more I came to understand the hunger strike as a means of accomplishing more than just one demand.

Refusing to eat is the only means we have on the INSIDE to protest the government's attempts to silence a revolutionary movement such as ours. Not only was I demanding my release, I was demanding the public's attention to the plight of the animals and showing the system and animal abuse industries we are willing to go to jail and possibly die for the animals.

Hunger strikes our extremely useful in our movement. They draw publicity to the system's repression and are our only means of protesting our imprisonment. So the courts and jail are forced to make one of two choices: release us, or suffer bad publicity and possibly kill us. Time and again we are released.

After 12 days of refusing to eat, they insisted my hunger strike had no effect upon my early release. But I wouldn't have been released 15 days early if that was true. Apparently, my hunger strike, combined with the onslaught of phone calls and demonstrations at the jail, was the ONLY reason I was released early.

We can fight this system. We must realize in ourselves we have the power. The oppressors would like us to think otherwise, so we give in and start writing letters to the president instead. But if we follow our conscience and do what we KNOW will free the animals NOW, we will win this battle. The people have the power. We must take it back!

NC: What thoughts went through your head while in prison?

TW: Jail gave me a new perspective. I came to realize the enormous level of courage and dedication of A.L.F. activists and the risk at which they put themselves in to free the animals from the torture chambers. That's why it is so important we show our public support for the actions of the A.L.F., and support those who have been imprisoned for A.L.F. activities. Jail can be a lonely place. It's important we write animal liberation prisoners, A.L.F. or otherwise, and keep them in contact with the outside.

I also got a first-hand look at the human victims. These kids are 'economic' (rather than political) prisoners who are also caught in this abusive cycle. I think it's important we don't forget about these individuals, either. It is much too easy to label them as criminals when many of their "crimes" involve just trying to survive in the poor conditions.

They may not have it as bad as the animals, but nonetheless suffer under the capitalist system which places profit over human and animal life.

NC: What difference, if any, did outside support make for you while inside?

TW: Lots. The first news of activism on the outside was totally energizing and inspirational. I had a really great prisoner support group. National Activist Network helped publicize nationally, and the ADL activists from Indianapolis and Bloomington held demonstrations at the jail. Good support is essential to jailed activists.

Once the jail began to recieve 40 phone calls a day from concerned individuals all across the world and demonstrations on the outside, they treated me much better.

Initially, I was put on "suicide watch" because I refused to eat. All my clothes, except underwear, were taken and the light in my cell was kept on 24 hours a day. After the jail realized people on the outside were concerned, I got my clothes back and was taken off suicide watch. From then on, I was checked on daily by the superintendent of the jail and the nurse.

If no one had been working to get me free on the outside and publicizing my case, I would have been kept in those conditions for a much longer period of time. The jail would have continued to violate my rights if no one spoke out.

NC: Your hunger strike caused people to organize around you and there were protests around the country on Dec. 21 and Dec. 22 that were sparked by your incarceration. What are your thoughts on that?

TW: Those demonstrations were right on track. When the government attempts to silence us, we will fight harder. The hunger strike served as the fuel, just as it did when Barry Horne and Sue McCrosky refused to eat.

Instead of the animal liberation movement slowing down and focusing more on that certain individual's freedom, we become energized and invigorated. We fight the butchers and murderers even more powerfully than before.

It is VERY important that we do not become distracted from our original goal of total liberation. Back in the 60's when co-founder of the Black Panther Party, Huey Newton, was locked up for allegedly killing a cop, the revolutionary movement focused more energy and resources on freeing Huey, than on fighting the racist system which put him there.

Much the same is true today in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Instead of focusing on changing the WHOLE currupt system and demanding freedom for all, organizations will focus specifically on Mumia's case.

That's good for the government. As long as we focus on specific cases ONLY, no concrete gains will be made for the future and our understanding of the injustice will be incomplete.

NC: Tell us about your release from jail.

TW: After about a week, the greedy lawyer my parents hired finally filed for my early release, after spending much time trying to persuade me to eat. On the 12th day of my hunger strike in the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center (jail) I went to court for early release.

Expecting to be released without further restriction, I was suprised with the terms of my release. I was ordered to finish all 100 hours of community service, follow probation and be severely restricted by "formal home detention." (On home detention you are not allowed to leave your home for anything other than school and community service.)

The judge asked me whether I would now follow these restrictions and I hesitantly accepted. By this time, I had little communication with the outside, except for incoming letters. My parents had gotten my phone call priviledges denied to me. I had started NOT to do what my conscience told me but rather what was more convenient. My good judgement was failing, and I broke under the pressure.

Now, the animals pay the price. I haven't been active in the busiest fur season of the year, and the courts have the impression that I will break again if they hold out. This will make it more difficult for me when I battle the system next time. Unfortunately, this has also been exacerbated by the fact that a few others have taken deals instead of fighting the charges.

Without strong group soildarity, the few who choose to battle it out until the end are seen as the defiant individuals, rather than a part of the strong, uncompromising group. So the judge sets out to "teach them a lesson" and make examples out of them. My case is no different.

NC: What words of advice do you have for others in a similar situation?

TW: If you're under 18, I'd suggest looking into the juvenile law in your area. Juvenile law differs much more from state to state, and possibly from region to region, than adult law does.

In Marion County, "juveniles" are denied the right to a jury trial, all court hearings are made closed to the public, you can be put on home detention without ever being convicted of a crime and all fines are the responsibilty of your parents (as far as we know).

If I had been more aware of my rights, I would have also been more prepared for defending myself in court. It's important we share our knowledge and experience with each other so we don't repeat our previous mistakes.

Remember: we can fight this system and win. When we refuse to cooperate with THEIR laws and utilize the power each and every one of us has to fight for animal liberation, we will win this war. It's just a matter of how and when we want it accomplished. Their threats of imprisonment should not deter us from fighting the hardest we possibly can. With uncompromising solidarity and persistence, the animal liberation movement will be a force to reckon with.

NC: How has your activism affected your home life?

TW: I've never had a very close relationship with my parents. There's always tension in my house, in part because of my activism, but I try my best to ignore it not let it distract me. I'd imagine many kids have worse parents but just never test them.

NC: You are one of the younger activists in the movement. Do you have any words of advice for others?

TW: Don't let your parents hinder your activism. All too often I hear kids not going to protests or doing things because their parents don't approve. Don't let them run your life. Take control of yourself. And don't ever grow up!

NC: What does the future hold for you as an activist?

TW: I'd like to get off these restrictions so I can start fighting again. I don't want to worry about being arrested and violating probation at a protest.

I'd also like to get more people involved in the decision-making process in our organization. I think people will be much more willing to get AND stay involved if they feel they have importance in the group.

I plan to get workshops together on activist's rights, dealing with interrogation and group solidarity going on here. Many activists are lacking in these areas and that could have negative consequences in the future.

NC: What do you suggest for the animal liberation movement in 1997?

TW: The movement in the U.S. is definitely being most effective by targetting the fur industry. We can and will see it to its death.

The Fur Free Friday actions last year were the hardest- hitting in many years, not to mention the A.L.F.'s campaign of furm farm raids and economic sabotage. We're gaining momentum with each coordinated action and every new group. Attention is being drawn away from the big nationals like PETA, etc. and their silly tactics and put on the grassroots movement's uncompromising tactics. People take us serious when we take ourselves serious. We are the ones who are moving the mountains.

Persistence and focus are very important. When the murderers realize we won't leave them alone until they are all gone, many will quit and move on before being targetted themselves.

Stay on target and don't stop until ALL the animals are free! Together we will fight this war until it's won--for the animals!

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