An annual march by demonstrators opposed to the use of animals in research, held on the Emory campus every fourth Saturday in April for many years, turned ugly this year. The demonstration was the first occasion of any kind that Emory police-outnumbered three to one even with DeKalb County Police reinforcements-have ever felt the need to use pepper spray or tear gas on a crowd in order to control the situation and protect people and property.
While considerably smaller than some previous demonstrations staged at Emory during National World Wide Laboratory Animal Liberation Week, the group of about 90 demonstrators was markedly more hostile, marching in close formation, many with their faces covered; making obscene gestures; and screaming phrases similar to those used in threatening letters sent several Yerkes researchers the week before.
The demonstrators marched from the Emory gate toward Yerkes and attempted several times to push past a barricade set up by Emory police on Gatewood Road, about a quarter of a mile from the Yerkes campus. During the confrontation opposite several Gatewood Road buildings housing the Alumni Annual Fund and other university development support offices, a protester hurled a barricade through the window of the DeKalb County Police Chief's car, an incident featured prominently in much of the television coverage. At least one DeKalb policeman was overcome by the irritant sprays and had to be airlifted from the scene, and another DeKalb policeman had his shoulder separated during the pushing and shoving at the barricade. At least three of the protesters appeared affected by the irritant sprays, and Emory First Responder unit were on hand to wash down their skin.
As of Tuesday, April 29, 52 adults over the age of 18 had been arrested and 12 juveniles taken into protective custody until their parents could be located. The group held a press conference to announce a hunger strike while in jail, but the juveniles were released by Sunday and releases of many of the adults began soon after. Only 15 of those arrested were from Georgia. The majority represented 16 states as far away as California and Connecticut.
Erick Gaither, executive director of Community Services, said that security on campus, especially in research areas, was unusually high for more than a week before this scheduled event. Police Chief Craig Watson, Captain Michael Poole (who was charge of security for the demonstration) and Captain Ray Edge had been working on plans for the event for many more weeks before that. "I think we were well-prepared, but we could not have handled an event this violent without the help of DeKalb Police Chief Bobby Burgess and his officers, including a helicopter and dogs to patrol the long fence surrounding Yerkes. Director Thomas Brown, head of Public Safety for DeKalb County, also came to show support," said Gaither.
He added, "I'm very proud of the Emory Police as well as the DeKalb officers for the remarkable restraint they showed in the face of attack and abuse."
Much of the protest focused on AIDS research. The Atlanta Journal/Constitution quoted one San Francisco activist as saying the demonstration was part of a "bi-coastal animal rights protest" and arguing that "AIDS can be researched without harming animals. The money spent on AIDS research could be better spent to feed and house people with AIDS." In fact, two AIDS patients who had come to voice support for Emory and Yerkes found themselves the objects of the protesters' rage and had to be given police support.
Thomas Insel, director of the Yerkes Center, said, "At Yerkes we are working hard to develop a vaccine for AIDS, a disease which now affects more than 20 million people worldwide. Feeding and housing people with AIDS is very important, but that alone won't make the disease go away. Sadly, the protesters don't understand the importance of AIDS research. Nonhuman primates provide the best animal model for developing treatments and vaccines for AIDS. Basically, you have to make a choice. You can't be for a treatment for AIDS and against animal research.
"We are justifiably proud of the state-of-the-art care and treatment given to our animals by our highly experienced veterinarians and animal care staff. They have dedicated their lives to the care of these animals," he said.