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I went to jail in America for protecting bears – all animals deserve respect

19 January 2018

College professor Bill Crain writes from a New Jersey prison where he served 12 days for protesting the killing of 4,000 bears in state culls.

Since 2003, the American state of New Jersey has held 10 bear culls which have resulted in the deaths of over 4,000 wild black bears.

Hunters just need a $2 permit, obtained from the state Department of Environmental Protection, and a weapon to take part in the hunts.

Each year the culls have spawned protests with one animal welfare activist being arrested eight times for objecting to the mass murder of wild animals.

College psychology professor Bill Crain, 74, was handed jail sentences in 2016 and 2017 while his first six convictions were handled with fines.

During the latest incident in October 14, 2017, Bill was arrested for leaving the designated protesting area while wearing a sign which read, “mother nature is crying” and later charged with obstructing the administration of law.

In January 2018, during his latest stint behind bars, he reiterated his determination to stand up for animals in need – even if it means going back to jail.

In a letter from Sussex County Jail, Bill wrote:

New Jersey has held black bear hunts nearly every year since 2003. I believe these hunts have been unnecessary and extremely cruel. They have killed over 4,000 bears, including cubs.

The New Jersey wildlife authorities have promoted these hunts as necessary for public safety. But black bear attacks on humans are very rare. True, there was a fatal attack in New Jersey in 2014, in ambiguous circumstances. While tragic, it is the only such attack in New Jersey history. Most states have never had a fatal bear attack on a human.

Black bears, to be sure, can cause problems, as when they damage crops or repeatedly visit bird feeders or dumpsters. But such problems hardly justify wholesale killing. The life of each bear is precious to him or her, and should be respected.

Bill added:

When I most recently engaged in civil disobedience, I knew I would go to jail again. Why did I do it?

Most fundamentally, I wanted to emphasize how seriously I consider the plight of the bears to be. The state’s promotion of such suffering and death is monstrous. It’s time for our society to give all living beings the protection and respect that we believe our own species deserves.

During the 2017 cull, which Bill protested, more than 400 wild black bears were killed by hunters.

Bill’s unwavering opposition to the slaughter of thousands of wild bears has earned him the support of Animals Asia’s Founder and CEO, Jill Robinson MBE, who has dedicated her life to protecting bears on the other side of the world in Asia.

In a letter to Bill while he was in prison, Jill wrote to offer support and thanks for his courage.

Jill wrote:

Thank you for taking a stand and for every individual bear you have endeavoured to save over these years. I doubt that anyone would contest the rescue of the caged and farmed bears we help in China and Vietnam, but I question why their existence is perhaps seen as more worthy than those in the USA whose lives are ended for sport?

These bears on both continents were born for their own purpose, to inhabit and live free in the wild, and yet both have their lives ended, brutally, at the hands of humankind.

It is widely expected that New Jersey’s bear culls will cease in 2018 as incoming governor Phil Murphy has sided with protestors like Bill Crain and announced his plans to end the hunts.

Speaking after Bill’s release, Jill said:

“Bill’s actions are humbling and inspiring. He makes clear that all animals have only one life which they cherish as strongly as we cherish our own. In 20 years of painstaking work, Animals Asia has saved over 600 bears in Vietnam and China from torturous conditions and brought them to our sanctuaries. These bears have been through hell, but each one of them deserves the chance of a better life.

“Yet in New Jersey, a similar number of bears had their only life taken from them in state-sanctioned killings in 2016 alone. It is nothing short of a tragedy. But people like Bill have refused to accept an activity which is so clearly wrong and now it looks like their perseverance, dedication and compassion has paid off. If the hunts end as expected, it will be because ordinary people like Bill called out cruelty and refused to stay silent.”

Since his release from prison on January 14, Bill has returned to working at Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary, which he co-founded to help care for animals rescued from farms.

Read Bill Crain’s letter in full:

New Jersey has held black bear hunts nearly every year since 2003. I believe these hunts have been unnecessary and extremely cruel. They have killed over 4,000 bears, including cubs.

The New Jersey wildlife authorities have promoted these hunts as necessary for public safety. But black bear attacks on humans are very rare. True, there was a fatal attack in New Jersey in 2014, in ambiguous circumstances. While tragic, it is the only such attack in New Jersey history. Most states have never had a fatal bear attack on a human.

Black bears, to be sure, can cause problems, as when they damage crops or repeatedly visit bird feeders or dumpsters. But such problems hardly justify wholesale killing. The life of each bear is precious to him or her, and should be respected.

Many people have protested the hunts. On eight occasions, I have engaged in civil disobedience and have been arrested at some of the protests. Usually I have stepped outside the area designated for protesters and have refused to return. I have intended to demonstrate my refusal to obey a government-promoted slaughter of other living beings.

In this jail, the first two or three days are usually the hardest. Inmates undergo a medical lock-in; they are locked into individual cells until they receive a brief medical exam and are assessed for placement in the facility. During my current medical lock-in, I was out of my cell only to see the nurse or to make a couple phone calls to my wife, Ellen. The isolation was difficult.

After two days in lock-in, I was placed in the same area (called the “overflow unit”), but allowed to leave my cell for extended periods.

Inmates have consistently told me that the hardest aspect of incarceration, even harder than the confinement, is the monotony. This has been true for me. I like to read, but books must come directly from the publisher, which takes several days. While on medical lock-in, there was a novel left behind that I read, a novel that held little interest for me. A book cart comes once a week, but it wasn’t available to me during medical lock-in or for several days afterward. In addition, the TV in the dayroom blares into the cells, making it difficult to read or even think.

I have now served six days. My jail term might end after six more days; I might get three days off for good behavior.

These first six days have been unusually cold. The outdoor thermometer has barely reached the teens in the daytime. Nights have been around zero [Fahrenheit]. It’s also cold inside the jail. We inmates wear blankets over our shoulders to try to get warm. The cold makes reading, writing, and thinking difficult.

For me, a major problem with jail is the absence of nature. There is nothing but concrete, plastic, and metal. I miss the feel of breezes and sunshine and the sounds of birds. I miss the stimulation and comfort that nature provides.

The staff attempts to provide me with a vegan diet, but it lacks the resources so my meals are vegetarian, and I give milk and other animal products to other inmates.

Jail, of course, is meant to be difficult. It’s a punishment. But inmates tell me that lengthy sentences can drive a person insane. The jail staff are constantly on the watch for potential suicides.

My arrests have been at demonstrations organized by the New Jersey Bear Group. The Bear Group held a vigil for me and the bears outside the jail building. About 20 people braved the cold. It was very impressive and personally gratifying.

A few others in The Bear Group have also engaged in civil disobedience. All the members are dedicated to the protection of nonhuman animals. They work for the animals in a variety of ways, including legislative activities. The Group’s efforts have helped inspire Governor-elect Phil Murphy to pledge a moratorium on black bear hunts until there is time to study non-lethal bear population control.

When I most recently engaged in civil disobedience, I knew I would go to jail again. Why did I do it?

Most fundamentally, I wanted to emphasize how seriously I consider the plight of the bears to be. The state’s promotion of such suffering and death is monstrous. It’s time for our society to give all living beings the protection and respect that we believe our own species deserves.

Bill Crain

January 8, 2018

Sussex County Jail

To date Animals Asia has rescued more than 600 bears – mainly from the bear bile industry. More than 370 bears continue to live out their days in the charity’s sanctuaries in China and Vietnam.

 

A post shared by Animals Asia (@animalsasia) on Feb 24, 2017 at 12:33am PST


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