Of Mice & Men

    Will Parson/Guardian

    Animal rights were a source of debate long before the UC
    system was formed, but over the last five years, actions taken by both sides
    have escalated, bringing the issue to a head with increasingly violent
    animal-rights protests and stringent new UC-sponsored legislation.

    The first major victory for animal-rights groups in the
    recent past occurred in 2003. Protesters gathered outside UCSD’s Basic
    Sciences Building

    on Feb. 19 to challenge a voluntary School
    of Medicine
    dog lab for freshmen.
    The lab used 24 privately bred dogs, valued at $576 each, for a half-day
    experiment involving vivisection and ending with the euthanization of the
    animals. Fifty out of 120 medical school students opted to skip the quarter’s
    first lab, and the lab was canceled completely in August 2003.

    Three years later, in 2006, UCLA began experiencing its
    first major violent protests, having been the site of many nonviolent marches
    in previous years.

    According to an anonymous July 11 communique released by the
    North American Animal Liberation Press Office, the Animal Liberation Front
    placed a Molotov cocktail on UCLA researcher Lynn Fairbanks’ doorstep on June
    30 as retaliation for “breeding monkeys for painful addiction experiments.”
    However, a statement released by the FBI did not confirm that Fairbanks
    was the target of the attack and said the incendiary device — actually placed
    on the doorstep of Fairbanks
    70-year-old neighbor — failed to ignite.

    In February 2007, the Burnham Institute for Medical
    Research, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Scripps Research
    Institute and UCSD formed the San Diego Research Ethics Consortium. As of
    December 2007, all four institutions have adopted a common ethics training
    requirement, offered through SDREC. Courses focus on the ethics of stem-cell
    research as well as other ethical issues such as social responsibility and the
    treatment of human and animal subjects.

    The UCLA protests returned with full force on June 24, 2007. An incendiary device,
    along with one gallon of fuel, was found next to UCLA researcher Arthur
    Rosenbaum’s vehicle. NAALPO press officer Jerry Vlasak said Rosenbaum “glues
    steel coils onto the eyes of primates,” and a group calling itself the Animal
    Liberation Brigade claimed responsibility in a June 27 communique released by
    NAALPO.

    According to Newsweek, Rosenbaum’s wife received a package
    weeks later containing animal fur and razor blades from someone claiming to be
    with ALF, threatening, “What he does to animals, we will do to you.”

    ALF also claimed responsibility for flooding UCLA researcher
    Edythe London’s Beverly Hills, Calif.
    home on Oct. 20. The group inserted a hosepipe into a broken window and
    reportedly caused more than $20,000 in water damage.

    Two months later, on Dec. 5, the UCSD School of Medicine
    complex was evacuated for seven hours when former UCSD employee Richard Sills
    Jr. threatened to detonate multiple explosives unless all animals used in UCSD
    research facilities were released. The bomb threat, centered on a suspicious
    package found in the Leichtag Biomedical
    Research Building
    ,
    was ultimately determined to be a hoax.

    Then on Feb. 5, 2008,
    London was targeted again, this
    time with an incendiary device left at her home. Although the device did ignite
    and cause damage, no one is believed to have been present when the incident
    occurred.

    UCLA responded to this latest attack by filing a lawsuit on
    Feb. 21 aimed at stopping the threats. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge
    Gerald Rosenberg granted a temporary restraining order against the UCLA Primate
    Freedom Project, ALF, ALB and five individuals believed to affiliate with the
    groups. According to a UCLA press release, under the order, the defendants are
    prohibited from harassing UCLA personnel or coming within 50 feet of them
    during a demonstration. It also requires extremists to remove personal
    information about researchers from their Web sites.

    “We’re dealing with terrorist organizations and people who
    are knowingly involving themselves with these terrorist organizations,” said
    John Hueston, a lawyer for UCLA, in a Feb. 27 Newsweek article.

    Director of the UCLA Primate Freedom Project Jean Green told
    Newsweek she would comply with the restraining order but said, “We’re not going
    to just lay down.” Green has since removed the researchers’ addresses from her
    Web site, but reportedly hinted to Newsweek that she may continue the fight
    through e-mail.

    Three days later, on Feb. 24, six masked intruders attempted
    to force their way into a UC Santa Cruz researcher’s residence and fled after a
    confrontation that involved a physical attack on the researcher’s husband.

    “An attempted home
    invasion by masked perpetrators is not free speech — it is a criminal act that
    threatens, intimidates and stifles academic freedom,” UCSC Chancellor George
    Blumenthal said in a statement.

    In March, UC Berkeley campus officials followed suit and
    said they were attempting to sue for a restraining order against informally
    organized activists who stage weekly demonstrations outside at least six Berkeley
    researchers’ homes.

    “Calling a person an animal abuser and a puppy killer is
    protected speech,” said animal-rights attorney Christine Garcia, according to a
    March 5 article in the Daily Cal. “Constitutionally protected speech is not
    harassment.”

    Later that same month, the UC system announced it is seeking
    to expand its UCLA restraining order to a permanent systemwide injunction,
    protecting all 10 UC campuses from the defendants named in the temporary
    restraining order granted in February.

    Currently, the UC system is sponsoring an extensive state
    assembly bill aimed at protecting its researchers from animal-rights groups.
    The bill — the California Animal Enterprise Protection Act, Assembly Bill 2296
    — is authored by Assemblyman Gene Mullin (D-South San Francisco) and was passed
    by a 9-0 vote in the state’s judiciary committee on April 17.

    According to an analysis released by the judiciary
    committee, the bill prohibits posting private information, such as a home
    address, telephone number or picture, about any animal enterprise employee on
    the Internet. An “animal enterprise,” as defined by the bill, would not only
    include nonprofit and academic organizations involved in animal research and
    testing but many commercial businesses engaged in analytical testing and
    product development.

    Anyone who attempts to interfere with an animal enterprise
    with acts including, but not limited to, nonviolent intimidation and destroying
    property would be guilty of a misdemeanor. Depending on the act, offenders
    could face up to one year in a county jail and a fine of up to $25,000, with
    fines being increased for subsequent offenders.

    The committee’s analysis also said the bill “proposes,
    apparently in unprecedented fashion, that the employer of an alleged victim
    would have standing to sue [for damages and injunctive relief] even if the
    person actually aggrieved chooses not to sue.”

    The committee warned the definition of “animal enterprises”
    may be too general, setting a precedent for extending protections to
    controversial enterprises such as tobacco and oil companies.

    Civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties
    Union have protested the bill, claiming it may prohibit the posting of accurate
    information on the Internet and carries criminal penalties for conduct related
    to public protest.

    Vlasak expects both the restraining order and the
    legislation in progress will have no effect on the activity of underground
    organizations such as ALF.

    “If someone’s willing to risk 20 years of prison by …
    burning a building used for animal torture, I don’t think they’re going to
    worry about a silly restraining order that UCLA cooks up,” Vlasak said. “The
    same goes for AB 2296.”

    He attributed the steadily rising numbers of animal rights
    protests and attacks over the last five years to the ineffectiveness of
    peaceful protests.

    “I think out of frustration of legal means, with passing
    laws, with peacefully protesting, with writing letters to congressmen — all
    those sorts of things — after seeing those techniques frustrated I think people
    have said ‘Well, if this doesn’t work, then … we should try something
    different,” Vlasak said. “And that’s when I think groups like the ALF and other
    organizations step up to the plate and say, ‘… We’re going to make sure that
    you’re not going to ignore us.’”

    Vlasak said that although ALF has a specific set of
    guidelines in place — allowing for property damage, the liberation of animals
    and economic sabotage — they denounce violence toward humans or animals.

    However, he said, “Other organizations don’t have those
    guidelines.”

    Vlasak also argued the UC system is mistakenly funding
    unnecessary research that could be used for legitimate forms of treatment.

    “It’s ridiculous UC continues to waste all this taxpayer
    money and inflict an unimaginable amount of suffering on animals when they
    could be doing the right thing and promoting health for human beings,” he said.

    However, UC President Robert C. Dynes argued otherwise in an
    April 10 letter written to Dave Jones, the chair of the assembly judiciary
    committee.

    “Radiation therapy and other cancer treatments, the
    development of vaccines, organ transplantation and many mental health
    treatments have all resulted in part from work done on animals,” Dynes said.
    “When such work is disrupted by the actions used by extreme animal-rights
    activists, the deleterious impact on important research can … delay the
    development of greatly needed and potentially lifesaving therapies.”

    Dynes maintained the bill is not about limiting protestors’
    free speech, but keeping researchers and their families safe.

    “This legislation is an important step toward ensuring that
    state prosecutors and law enforcement officials have the tools they need to
    prevent increasingly threatening and destructive tactics employed by extreme
    animal-rights activists without jeopardizing legitimate and lawful expressions
    of free speech,” he said.

    AB 2296 will be heard within the Assembly Appropriations
    Committee in the next few weeks.

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