19 November

The New York Carriage Horses: When Children Cry And Someone Dies. Flipping It.

by Jon Katz
When Children Cry
When Children Cry

When children cry and someone dies.  A warning. This story is about a troubling  video. It is not polished or slick, you have to watch it a few times to get it. It is filled with powerful and revealing images. Violence and rage are always disturbing to watch, and so much of it is rained down upon us in a technologically connected world through the many devices and gadgets we live with and carry, and through the greed and callousness of the wealthy corporations that now control our media.

The thing that comes through again and again if you listen to the video , shot by videographer Sandi Bachom, are the cries of the children. For me, they echoed again and again in my mind. The video is testimony, there is so much truth in it.

This post was inspired by the video,  it was taken by people in the carriage trade in New York earlier this week. It speaks directly to the cancer afflicting the movement that claims to speak for animals in America, and the weak and feckless politicians that bow down to it. Animals and children are in special need of protection, and when our system fails to protect either, it is a sad step backwards.

When rage is directed at children, or animals is especially wrenching to see, and the hatred in this video is directed at both.  No one dies in this video, but some of our values have.

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It’s a familiar ritual to me now, I’ve seen it a half-dozen times during my visits to New York City. The police and the animal rights demonstrators call it “flipping.” Animal rights demonstrators, usually picketing nearby, will suddenly swarm towards the carriage horses parked along the edge of Central Park, shouting insults at the drivers, yelling at tourists and families lining up for rides – accusing them of supporting torture and abuse – screaming loudly near the horses heads, and waving signs and placards near their faces  to panic and frighten then.

(You might ask the question here that I first asked when I saw this in New York. Why would people to call themselves supporters of animal rights treat animals in this way? Because they need the horses to hurt  or kill someone in order to validate their long and cruel campaign against them and the people who own and drive them.)

When they get too close, or too loud or too aggressive, and someone complains or protests, the demonstrators immediately begin shouting “stop hitting me,” “get away from me” or screaming that they have cancer or are dying or are on chemotherapy. If someone calls the police for help, they immediately call the police also, claiming they were assaulted. If there is a central ethos to the new ideology of animal rights in America, it is not the well-being of animals, it is the experience of victimization. They are always the victims, always.

In New York City, where the mayor has said removing the horses from the city is his first and most urgent priority, and where he has refused to meet with the carriage drivers or visit the horses in their stables, the police – whose commissioner is appointed by the mayor –  have made it clear that they will not protect the carriage horses or their drivers from people who get close and shout at them, try and intimidate their customers, disrupt their work, or poke placards in the horses faces.

The drivers are on their own, in the midst of crowds and traffic, controlling animals that can weigh up to 2,000 pounds as small but angry mobs swirl around them. The police – ubiquitous and vigilant around Central Park –  are never present when trouble occurs for the carriage drivers. They come after awhile, as the law requires, and they take down the testimony and conflicting accounts – usually the demonstrators are long gone – and then leave. There are rarely any arrests made, one woman was given a ticket a few years ago when she kicked a carriage driver in the leg. She also claimed to have cancer.

Watching the video, it seems inevitable to me that the animal rights demonstrators will succeed one day in their efforts to panic a horse, giving them and the mayor some desperately-needed ammunition in their long and angry campaign to banish the horses from the city.

Their problem is that they have gained almost no support and much opposition to the proposed ban this year. The newspapers are against it, so are two-thirds of the people, tourists, the business community,  and most of the City Council. The ban, so urgent and imminent a year ago, is stalled. The claims of abuse and mistreatment of the horses have been thoroughly debunked by a parade of veterinarians, horse welfare groups, trainers, writers and behaviorists.

It is apparent to everyone involved what the goal  of the demonstrators is – you can see it clear in this and other videos taken by the people in the carriage trade or by tourists. They hope to provoke a panic or stampede among the horses, perhaps one in which people will be injured, even killed. In this inverted immorality, death and injury is necessary for them to make the point that the horses do not belong in New York City.

The problem that they and the mayor have in claiming that the horses are dangerous is that no human being has ever been killed by a carriage horse, not in the 150-year history of the carriage trade. Thus it is difficult to make the claim that the city is too dangerous for horses, especially when more than 16,000 people were injured, nearly 200 killed,  in accidents on the city streets by cars, trucks, buses and bicycles last year.

You might think the mayor of the city would speak out against acts of reckless violence, as he has against the horses, calling their work “immoral.” He might protect the carriage drivers – and the children of tourists – and assure them that the city will take every necessary step to protect them and their many devoted customers and visitors from unprovoked violence. Random violence and disruption of the kind seen in the video is simply not something a democratic culture will normally tolerate, especially a government that proclaims itself one of the most progressive in the country. New York City’s police know how to take care of their city, if you drop a paper bag in Times Square or carry a backpack, the odds are good that you will be surrounded by police officers wanting to know what you are up to.

It seems rational and logical that the police – their surveillance cameras are on every corner of the park – would keep the horses and the people who ride them safe. The carriage drivers have repeatedly asked the police to keep the demonstrators away from the horses, but their pleas have been ignored.

Generally, in our culture, children are seen as off limits in political differences, outside the pale of heated and angry divisions and conflict.  The demonstrators can shout all they want about people hitting them, or their troubles with chemotherapy – should the demonstrator in the video really be out screaming at children if she is so sick? – the video speaks very clearly for itself.

What is clear is this. A mother and her two children came to the southern edge of Central Park to take a ride in a carriage horse, they were suddenly beset by people with placards screaming and waving their signs. You can hear the children screaming and then crying as they are either pushed or shoved by one or more of the demonstrators, and surrounded by a screaming mob, then you can hear the carriage driver pleading with them to stop and get away,  and shouting for help and asking passersby to call the police, then you can hear the demonstrators shouting that they have been hit and demanding that everyone else gets back, (the driver says he has nowhere to go, his horse is parked by the curb, and then the demonstrators “flip it,” they demand that the the police be called. You can also see the police officer who eventually comes to take down the information. He asks if he can pat the horse.

The animals of the world need us to understand them and speak for them, not to surrender their rights and welfare to the people you will see in the video. If you are concerned about the rights of animals, close your eyes and listen to the cries of the children. That is the sound of animal rights in New York City.

One day, a demonstrator will surely finally get to provoke a horse into bolting, or running away, or panicking. Hopefully, the spirits of the horses will continue to protect them, and no one will get hurt. But the truly awful thing about this nearly inevitable scenario is that when it occurs, it will then itself be “flipped,” it will be used to try to take the horses away from their safe and secure work and homes and sent them out into the dangerous world of horse slaughter and trouble. For the people who claim to speak for the rights of animals, this will be considered a victory.

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Please consider signing Tawni Brawley’s petition asking the Santa Monica to reconsider their recent decision to allow her popular pony rides for children to remain in the city after her contract expires in May of 2015. She was falsely accused of animal abuse – three separate investigations found the accusations were false – and faces the loss of her livelihood.  Her reputation and character have been attacked, her rights trampled. The ponies may also face death or slaughter if she must seek homes for them at a time when 155,000 horses a year are being sent to slaughter in Canada and Mexico. The city’s decision seems a great injustice, she is fighting back on behalf of her rights, fairness, her  ponies and our animals. On it’s first day, Tawni Angel’s petition got nearly 600 signatures, she needs more than 2,500. If you love animals and respect the rights of people, please consider Tawni Angel’s petition.

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