TAR HEEL — An animal rights protest outside Smithfield’s packing plant Thursday afternoon resulted in more than a dozen protesters being arrested, if eye witnesses are correct.
Around 1 p..m. Thursday, what organizers called the “largest group of protesters to ever protest at Smithfield” converged on the company’s Tar Heel plant. Waving signs that said “Meat is murder” and “Smithfield kills 35,000 pigs a day,” the crowd of animal rights activists chanted “Their bodies, not ours, their lives, not ours” and “Shut it down!”
The crowd gathered at the corner where the traffic light is located, and multiple law enforcement officers were on hand making sure traffic flowed smoothly. Tensions rose as officers repeatedly tried to keep protesters from disrupting traffic, both vehicles on N.C. 87 and those entering the plant.
This is where accounts diverge. According to some bystanders, a protester shot water at a truck driver delivering pigs to the plant. Protesters claimed he was trying to give the thirsty animals some water. Others said a protester spit at an officer. Regardless of what precipitated it, everyone agreed things got out of hand quickly. One protester was put on the ground by law enforcement, and some witnesses say the offender went for the officer’s gun.
Dacia Thorston, spokesperson for the group or protesters, recounted how things unfolded.
“He was on the ground, and they (officers) punched him in his face. Five officers were in control of him, so he was no danger to anyone. We have it on video.”
The “he” to whom she was referring is Anthony Collini, who, along with what bystanders described as “about 15 other people” were taken to into custody. Officers on scene claimed law enforcement also are in possession of video.
The officer in question was not named and did not return to the protest. Bystanders say he was a State Highway Patrol officer.
The Highway Patrol spokesperson declined to comment on the incident. The Bladen County Sheriff’s Office could not be reached to confirm the number of people arrested.
Filmmaker Sean Monson was on site for the protest, having flown in from L.A. Monson is working on a documentary about what motivates people to adopt the vegan lifestyle and has witnessed many protests such as the one in Tar Heel today.
“This is a totally different atmosphere than what we normally see,” he commented. “I just went to one not long ago, and it was a calm, peaceful feeling, almost Ghandi-like. Not like this at all.”
“We are peaceful people,” said Thorston. “We’re against torture and murder to start with. We don’t want violence — we want it to end. “
A seven-year old who introduced himself Vegan Evan had a bullhorn with “Meat is Murder” and three other animal rights stickers on it. He was yelling through the bullhorn about police brutality.
He and his mom, Shannon Blair, rode to the protest with Collini, whom Blair described as “a peaceful person.”
“I saw someone on the ground, but it never even occurred to me it was him,” she said. “I can’t imagine him doing anything to provoke anyone.”
“Everyone has a right to protest,” said Bladen County Sheriff Jim McVicker. “All we’re trying to do is keep people safe. I think everyone here would agree on that — nobody wants anybody to get hurt.”
Thorston claimed the group was comprised of “individual activists” and did not represent any one group.
“Every single one of the individuals here doesn’t consume animal products,” she commented. “Animal agriculture is the leading cause of the planet dying. The H1N1 virus was started right here in this facility, and it’s the source of multiple health concerns for the people that live here.”
Protester Reba Kelly said the protest was an attempt to educate people about the conditions under which animals live.
“People are kept in the dark by huge industries like this,” she commented. “They hide behind words like ‘bacon’ instead of calling it what it is — rotting flesh.”
“People don’t think about how short these animals’ lives are,” she added. “They’re essentially babies on the truck, and it’s their first time outside, and they’re held without food and water; it’s a terrible way to live. They shouldn’t have to die to feed our bodies.”
“Smithfield kills 36,000 sentient beings every day who see, hear, and feel just like we do,” remarked Miguel Mandara. “We wouldn’t do this to dogs, so why do it to pigs?”
The group’s leader talked with McVicker at length about the cause.
“Long after you and I are gone, places like this will still exist,” McVicker told Thorston.
Protesters urged everyone in attendance to educate themselves about the conditions of factory farms like those owned by Smithfield.
Law enforcement requested the group to give them an end time so they could escort them safely across the four-lane highway, and, without further incident, the crowd began disbursing around 4 p.m.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing email@example.com.