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From March 6 through March 29, Mercer County Community College (MCCC) in Trenton is staging a photographic exhibit that extols the “exclusive culture” of cockfighting.*

The message between the lines is that anyone who opposes cockfighting is narrow-minded and culturally biased. And that the right “activism” and “social change” is to legalize cockfighting.

  • One by one, Domanick Muñoz pulled bloody and battered rooster bodies out of a pile of feathers, claws and beaks.
  • The birds that were still gasping for life he put out of their misery, plunging a syringe of drugs into their gouged and lacerated bellies. Animal-cruelty officers with Dallas Animal Services took those that were already dead and gingerly placed them into large, black plastic garbage bags.
  • Nearby, Sgt. Alfred Nuñez of the Dallas police surveyed abandoned cars, empty beer bottles, boxes of razor blades, syringes, liquor bottles, marijuana and dozens of cages and makeshift coops with roosters inside. This is one huge mess,” he said over the cacophony of crowing birds.
  • Minutes before, the police had broken up a cockfighting ring in this working-class neighborhood in southeast Dallas. The fight organizers and dozens of spectators quickly scattered into the woods, leaving plenty of evidence.
  • Dozens of birds were dead or dying. Others were juiced up on drugs, ready to fight to the death inside a dirt-floored pit for onlookers wagering which bird would kill the other first. Also left behind were a list of bettors and the box of admission money.

3/12/2018 Cockfighting Outfits Evade the Law, and Continue to Prosper - The New York Times.

A federal prosecutor once observed that animal fighters “have earned the lowest place in hell.” 

It’s hard to believe that an educational facility of any merit would extol cockfighting and, effectively, the gambling, drug dealing, illegal gun sales and murder that go with it, to impressionable young students. The romanticized if graphic photographs featured in the exhibit do not depict the wholesale carnage, inhumanity, filth, and crime deeply associated with the horrific activity.

Instead, MCCC uncritically presents "a fascinating look" at felony animal fighting as an “exclusive,” and “rich,” tradition. The exhibit curator says that the photographer’s goal was to produce images that “respect the island’s cockfighting tradition without imposing a westernized ideology on it.” Far from “neither condemning nor condoning” cockfighting, the photographer is a cockfighter who has said that  he is “captivated” by it. The exhibit urges “activism” and “social change.” It doesn’t mention the birds.

Failure to acknowledge that it’s against the law. MCCC promotional materials advise students that cockfighting is “still very popular in some parts of the world – and still legal in some parts of the unincorporated U.S territories.” Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states. In 40 states, it’s a felony. Pending federal legislation will extend cockfighting prohibitions to U.S. territories.

With underground animal fighting a thriving industry, with cockfighting raids in Newark and Paterson, with convicted felony animal fighters in New Jersey, the MCCC promotion repeatedly emphasizes cockfighting as “part of community life,” a “rich heritage,’ and “an important part of [my] Hispanic family heritage.” Emerging in Florida, the newest animal fighting trend is trunk fighting: “Two dogs are put in trunk, bets are made on which animal will survive and the car is driven around until no noises are coming from the trunk. The ringleaders then open the trunk and see which dog is still alive.”

MCCC’s response. Alarmed animal protection organizations demanded that the school pull the promotion and/or at the very least include the animal welfare and law enforcement perspective. Acknowledging only that cockfighting “may be unpleasant,” the MCCC president wrote: “…. [W]e offer these exhibits [on “controversial subjects such as racism, gun violence, and the Holocaust”] without commentary, trusting the viewer to absorb the information presented and to arrive at the proper conclusion.” (The MCCC does comment, both above, and in a statement at the exhibit, and its purpose is unmistakable. The “proper conclusion” is accepting cockfighting.)

But that statement is not true. The MCCC exhibit on gun violence was not neutral, let alone promotive. It clearly advocated against gun violence, and it certainly didn’t encourage “respect” for shooting sprees.

MCCC’s other example, "From Warsaw Ghetto to Darfur,” obviously emphasized the horrors of the Holocaust and genocide, and encouraged learning from them so that they never happen again.

What is equally obvious: Nowhere were gun violence, the Holocaust, or Darfur genocide heralded as “exclusive,” a “rich tradition” or an “important family heritage.” And nowhere did MCCC argue that such atrocities should be “respected without imposing a westernized ideology on [them].”

These and other statements condone cockfighting. As is patently clear, “neither condemning nor condoning” the barbarity described by the New York Times is taking a position.

  • We value the First Amendment and know that the arts are an important part of free speech. Nonetheless, there are serious, concomitant responsibilities when the subject is incontrovertible animal cruelty, violence, gambling, and homicide.
  • The MCCC cockfighting project is devoid of humane sensibility. The primary victims are not “just animals” whose suffering warrants nary a mention. Horrifically abused roosters can be rehabilitated.
  • MCCC ignored suggestions that humane organizations be allowed to present information addressing animal fighting cruelty and law enforcement.
  • Underground animal fighting is thriving. It is highly irresponsible of MCCC to present felony cockfighting in a desirable light. Whether the exhibit is a tasteless attempt to be “provocative” or edgy, a bid for publicity, or an objectionable effort to evangelize cockfighting as a mere cultural difference, it is at the expense of animals who cannot help themselves. 

 *To avoid hoped-for publicity, we’re not using names or promoting the gallery. 

Photo credits: Top: Lisa Howard. Bottom: Jamie B. Nash. Courtesy of United Poultry Concerns. Welcome photo: Doris Lin, Esq.