No Compromise

National News

Issue8

Page 6

Halting Hegins '97
The Story of 7 Heroic Activists Who Risked Injury
and Imprisonment to Expose Violence and Save Lives

The Hegins Labor Day Pigeon Shoot is arguably the most blatant example of cruelty towards animals in modern history. Every year, hundreds of shooters come from across the country to the small, rural town of Hegins, Pennsylvania, for the sole purpose of shooting pigeons. After paying a fee, they take aim at the helpless birds as they are released from cages. Some of the birds are fortunate enough to be killed instantly, but most are only wounded by the shots, and fall to the ground (this year, the crippling rate was estimated at 78 percent). Here they are picked up by local children, called "trapper boys" and "trapper girls," who kill them by ripping off their heads, banging them against garbage cans, stomping on them, or throwing them - still alive - into the cans full of dead birds, to suffocate as more are piled atop them.

THE BATTLEGROUND

For more than a dozen years, Hegins has served as a battleground for animal rights activists, with the Washington, D.C. based Fund for Animals holding major demonstrations - in past years drawing thousands of protesters from all over the country. Unfortunately, for many years, Hegins has also served as the movement's Achilles' Heel. Despite all the time, energy, money, and effort put into stopping the shoot, the protests have had the reverse effect. Activists coming to town, running onto the field and getting arrested, or trying to save wounded birds - often getting physically attacked by spectators - provided "entertainment" for the shoot-goers, changing a small, local pigeon shoot into a major regional event that draws thousands upon thousands of paying customers to watch the spectacle.

An action in 1996 marked a turning of the tide in the animal liberation movement, as a dozen people from both grassroots and national organizations linked together using bicycles locks into two groups, each on separate shooting fields. They remained in place for about two hours, impeding if not stopping the shoot.

UPPING THE ANTE: THE LOCKDOWN

1997 brought a full-on attack from the militant grassroots, which Hegins, despite years of protests, never expected...and won't soon forget. At 6:00 a.m., numerous activists from across the country converged on a spot, not at the shoot itself, but a quarter of a mile away, along Route 25, the main road into Hegins. There, seven 200-pound concrete-encased lock boxes rolled off trucks and were moved into a circle stretching across the road. Seven activists locked into the concrete behemoths and prepared for a long stay. Pillows were placed under their backs, arms, necks, and heads, to keep circulation from being cut off due to the sheer size of the lock boxes. Gallon jugs of water were readied for the long, hot day ahead.

As the sun came up over the hills, they waited and waited for police to arrive. Traffic was initially routed through a series of driveways, back roads, and backyards, but this was brought to an end as the residents realized that it was primarily protestors coming in. This created a massive traffic jam, the likes of which would make midtown Manhattan proud. Finally, well over an hour later, the Hegins police appeared.

The officer approached the lockdown, tapped a barrel with his foot, and returned to his car. This was the last that would be seen of the Hegins police. Shortly thereafter the Pennsylvania State Police arrived and stood by watching, baffled as to what to do. After some time, based on the SergeantĂs misconception that the activists could unlock whenever they wanted, they made their move¨clearing the street of everyone not locked down and taking away the water jugs and supportive pillows.

For hours the activists remained in the searing heat with the police responding to requests for water by telling them they could "get up and get it [themselves]." Without the pillows, many sank into uncomfortable positions, circulation now cut off from the sharp angle of the lockboxes. Help finally came when the police were forced to call the Hegins EMTs after one activist fell unconscious due to lack of circulation because of the way her arm had been bent.

Eventually, after the activists had been locked down for about five hours, the police finally realized they could not get out even if they had wanted to. There was only one option: to cut them out. Using 3 rescue trucks and 43 rescue workers, they began using a variety of large saws, drills, and chisels to break through the cement. Two activists fell unconscious and had to be put on oxygen. Throughout the process the seven endured not only the heat and lack of water, but hot oil from the saws dripping on their skin, rescue workers stepping on their arms and faces, cement flying into their faces, and, for one activist, having a finger sliced open during the sawing.

Around 3:30 p.m., the first three activists were removed and taken to the hospital to be treated for heat exhaustion and dehydration. An hour later, the last were taken away, after passing the ten-hour point in the lockdown. A small dump truck and front-end loader had to be brought in to remove the debris. The clean-up took at least another hour, further delaying the re-opening of the highway to traffic.

DIRECT ACTION

The lockdown wasn't the only action taken against the abusers at this year's shoot. Hegins also experienced its first taste of direct action, with attacks occurring throughout the day.

  • Driving into town, many noticed that the Hegins signs along the highway had been splashed with red paint.

  • The next action occurred around 8:30 a.m. It was reported that a number of people swarmed the offices of Bob Tobash, the main organizer of the shoot. Several windows were broken, costing him approximately $1500.

  • Shortly thereafter an American flag was pulled down and ripped apart.

  • Throughout the afternoon, vehicles in the parking lot were damaged: forty or so were keyed, tires were slashed, windshields were smashed, and others were doused in paint or paint thinner.

  • The day came to an explosive end with two or possibly three vehicles set on fire. One had a smoke bomb thrown through the window, burning the upholstery and interior. Another pickup was completely burned.

    CHARGES AGAINST THE ACTIVISTS

    The seven who locked down were placed under arrest, and their bail was set at $75,000, the highest bail ever set for an act of civil disobedience. They were charged with four counts of felony conspiracy, two counts of felony riot, and various misdemeanors, including resisting arrest, blocking a highway, disorderly conduct, reckless endangerment, and failure to disperse.

    Another activist was arrested separately and charged with criminal mischief, criminal conspiracy, and disorderly conduct, in relation to the direct action, despite the fact that the police have absolutely no evidence linking him to these events other than the fact that he wore a bandanna, like dozens of others there that day. This arrest is a ploy to try to get him to inform on others, but this is pretty stupid, as he doesn't know anything about the actions for which he is charged.

    It is obvious that the people of Hegins want to make an example of these activists, and are pushing for the maximum sentences to be imposed. If convicted, they are facing serious jail time. A defense fund has been set up to help with their legal costs. Please help them, even if it is only a dollar or two.

    Send donations to:
    Hegins Legal Defense Fund
    c/o NJARA
    P.O. Box 174
    Englishtown, NJ 07726 

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