ACTIVISM IN ACTION
By Kiley Blackman
In December of 2003, a member of my group called to say
there was an article in The Journal News about bow hunting in Yonkers. It
stated that some Yonkers residents were concerned that the bow hunting going
on here posed an imminent danger; it also stated that bowhunters had been
caught at a cemetery frequented by senior citizens and on the grounds of a
school for handicapped children. Yonkers City Councilperson Dee Barbato
proposed that arrows be sheathed at all times on public property, which
would effectively stop bowhunting, since they couldn't be fired with the
covering. Exceptions would be made for persons going to an authorized firing
range or competition, or on their own property.
As a Yonkers resident, I immediately contacted Dee Barbato
and offered whatever help my group could provide in getting her resolution
passed. I put the Yonkers City Council contact info in an email alert; this
alert also urged activists to write letters to the editor to The Journal
News about this issue, suggesting the emphasis be on public safety.
Unfortunately, many AR issues, though winnable, have to be won by stressing
the danger they pose for humans. A series of letters for and against
bowhunting subsequently appeared in this newspaper.
A few of us attended the first council meeting regarding
Barbato's resolution. At the end of it she confided that it was put into the
RULES AND CODES committee, where it was almost guaranteed to 'die in
committee.' Furthermore, she said there was strong opposition from police
and fireman here. Yonkers is a unique city; at the Republican Mayoral
debate, no less than six audience members openly accused Yonkers of being
We then served Yonkers with a NOTICE OF DANGEROUS
CONDITION regarding bowhunting. This is valid legal notice that establishes
liability within the served municipality. I got this idea from something
similar that Peter Muller had done regarding the feeding of geese to the
homeless, and I loved the concept. I've used this Notice several times
since, in Greenburgh and other venues, concerning the danger of traveling
animal acts. As I see it, if you can't get 'em on compassion, get 'em in the
wallet: whenever we've served Notice, we also distribute leaflets in banks,
supermarkets, etc, wherever people are spending and involved with
safeguarding their money.
The flyer we created in this instance said:
DO YOU OR YOUR DOG WALK IN THE PARK?
DO YOUR CHILDREN PLAY
DO YOUR RELATIVES VISIT THE CEMETARY?
It then mentioned the Notice that had been served on
Yonkers, stating: THIS IS LEGAL NOTICE WHICH GIVES PERSONS THE RIGHT TO SUE
THE CITY OF YONKERS IN THE EVENT OF INJURY DUE TO BOWHUNTING ACTIVITY, OR
EVEN SEEING SOMETHING DISTRESSING RESULTING FROM BOWHUNTING, SUCH AS A
PERSON WHO RECENTLY FOUND IN HIS BACK YARD A BLOODY DOE WITH AN ARROW STILL
IN HER. THE RESULTING LAWSUITS COULD NEGATIVELY AFFECT YOUR PROPERTY TAXES.
It also supplied city council and mayor's contact info,
suggesting they be contacted immediately. These flyers had a variety of
headings, some of which were "ARE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY AT RISK?" and "DO
YOU WANT AN ARROW IN YOUR HEAD?"
I also prepared a press release regarding the Notice; I
feel these three elements must be done together to maximize the effect of
the Notice which, though not a panacea, is yet another tool to utilize in
attaining our goals.
I called the president of the Yonkers PBA, whose official
position was it was outsiders who were bowhunting in Yonkers. He promised
to call Dee Barbato to discuss the resolution with her, but never did.
Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, who claimed he hadn't heard about the resolution
- but stated he'd seen 8 deer grazing near a busy intersection..."And what're
we going to do about it?!" (he was already anticipating deer/car
collisions). I provided him with literature, and asked my 'Yonkers residents
only' email list to contact him, which was my gut feeling for a starting
point, in Pretlow's case...We later asked the entire list to contact him.
During this time, one activist exchanged hunting
legislation info with another, and cc'd me; the note mentioned that the
Yonkers resolution "...wasn't going anywhere." I asked this activist
to amend this email and change that statement. I did this because, even though
I'm basically a pessimist, I have to keep a positive state of mind when I'm
working on an issue, even to the degree of using 'tunnel vision;' when we
worked on the Greenburgh ordinance, a few locals told me we'd never get the
ordinance in, and why not, listing the reasons why not; I had to tune them
out, change the subject, whatever. Also, it 'ain't over till it's over',
they say; and with so very many AR issues to tackle, if one is deemed DOA,
everyone will immediately move on to the next issue.
At one point Dee Barbato called me to say she'd found
legislation in Greenburgh that seemed more comprehensive than what she
proposed; it turned out that, according to Yonkers Corporation Council, this
legislation only applied to certain bow and arrows, and was also easily
challengeable, so she returned to her original resolution.
ADW Member Louise Simmons kept in close contact with the
city council and provided me with updates on which ones were willing to
support Barbato's resolution; the number was less than half. Julie Sorensen
from the Friends of the Yonkers Animal Shelter, an avid anti-hunting
advocate, blanketed a large area of Yonkers with flyers...and we waited.
While we waited we attended several local Yonkers
community meetings that were slated to discuss this subject along with
Yonkers pols. At one, Liam Mclaughlin announced that the Notice we served
wasn't valid. With a smile on my face, I asserted that it was (it certainly
is); he danced around the issue of state vs. local hunting laws. I
personally like to keep the pols to the issue and politely demand their
personal responsibility - I don't believe in letting them off the hook on
any issue, ever.
At another community meeting we were clearly unwelcome,
though I'd called to check first and been assured we were welcome, leading
me to ask Anne and Peter to attend to provide expert hunting testimony.
Since we didn't want to alienate the meeting members, we sat without comment
while one member demanded of the Yonkers City Council whether
'sharpshooters' could be brought in to kill the deer who were 'destroying'
On March 1, we got a lucky break from The Journal News;
they wanted to do a story about the Notice of Dangerous Condition. Although
it contained extensive protests from the New York Bowhunters Assn., who
stated that trespass laws are sufficient to curtail any illegal activity, it
gave publicity and media attention to the Notice.
Louise Simmons then reported that two more councilpersons
now agreed to support Barbato's resolution.
On April 27, the night the resolution was to be voted on,
Taffy Williams of NY Whale and Dolphin Action League and I gave impassioned
speeches to the city council, using newspaper clips and literature supplied
by CASH to underscore our points about the absurdity of 'safe' hunting in
Yonkers. At the end of our speeches, Councilperson John Murtagh came over to
us and said they were already in agreement to
support Barbato's resolution; the vote was a formality. A
few moments later it was announced: 7 - 0 in favor of Barbato's resolution.
The next day an article in The Journal News read CITY PLACES BAN ON
UNSHEATHED BOWS. It said this legislation "...highlighted a short meeting in
which council also banned the use of camera phones in health clubs." The
Journal expressed to us that Barbato's resolution was a creative way to work
around state law regarding hunting.
This was a concerted effort done by a lot of people, often
on very short notice. The bowhunters fought it strenuously, as did many of
the other hunters. Any and all legislation against their activities, no
matter how small, weakens their position. This issue also brought hunting
into the public eye, exposing hunters as being irresponsible and cruel, and
certainly not having the 'respect' for wildlife that they claim to have. A
big 'Thanks! and pat-on-the-back to all who wrote letters, made phone calls
and came out in support of an effort that was slated to 'die in committee.'
Kiley Blackman is President of
Animal Defenders of
Westchester, P.O. Box 205, Yonkers, NY 10704;