I’ve had a day to process what I witnessed on Sunday & Monday night of this week. I went to bear witness to the inhumane and cruel practice of Kaporos (read all about this horrible ritual here) in Brooklyn. I really wasn’t prepared for what I was going to see, despite my best efforts to mentally prepare myself. I don’t think anyone is really ready to witness animal cruelty and abuse right in front of their very eyes. Upon walking up and out of the subway station at Kingston Ave, you were smacked in the face of the stench of feces and urine, as the crates of chickens had already been there for several days.
We were penned in (similar to the chickens) for our protection by the police. Yes, the police were there, witnessing this cruelty as well, but just allowed them to do it. We chanted, held up posters and were mocked and laughed at. Lots of young boys came over to engage with us. But most of all, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of what was going on at the scene. I couldn’t engage with anyone on the first night. In fact, I could barely speak to my fellow activists. At one point, I was overcome with emotion, tears streaming down my face, hiding my bloodshot eyes behind my big sunglasses.
Nearly every man, woman and child that I saw holding a chicken held it by the wings. This is INCREDIBLY painful for the chicken, as you can see in the video above. Their wings are not made to bear their weight like that. Many chickens suffer broken bones and sprains because of this. Meanwhile, we are told repeatidly by the young men (and some grown men) surrounding us that they do not hurt the chickens. Yet not a single one of them knows how to properly hold a chicken.
On the first night, since it was “children’s night”, none of the chickens were slaughtered on site. I find it ironic that they want to protect the majority of young ones from seeing the taking of the life for their ritual, yet continue to defend this cruel practice. If they really believe in this ritual, why would they protect the children from seeing it? One observation I did have was how many children and babies that were hysterically crying. The second night we stationed ourselves down on President Street, where a big platform stage had been set up, under shiny bright lights, to conduct the kosher slaughters. Again, we were surrounded by men, young and old, heckling us and taunting us, being completely unreceptive to our cause. There was a young man protesting along with us, a Jew, who was trying to educate them on how to properly hold a chicken, if they are going to insist on using the chicken. Time after time, the men and boys on the other side took his paper, ripped it up or crumpled it up, and threw it back at him. Unbelievable. The second night I managed to have a few productive conversations, where we actually were speaking to each other in a kind way, which felt good. One fellow in particular, and older, Iraqi Jew, we talked for quite a while. He sympathized. We discussed. He told me he has rescued chickens of his own. I asked him if he would get me some chickens for us to rescue, telling him we have been rescuing a few and they would be going to Sanctuary. With regret in his eyes, and I could tell in his heart, he shook his head no. Nothing can shake them from their ritual.
On my way out, I witnessed the actual act of the slaughter. I could only bear to watch two birds get killed, but I made one distinct observation: the dead birds were being tossed directly into a garbage bin. I am kicking myself for not getting footage of this. After time and time again the young & older men told us, the chickens get donated to the needy, the chicken is serving a good, we are elevating the chicken to benefit others… yet anyone who knows anything about animal slaughter knows that if the blood isn’t drained from the body properly, it will be no good for human consumption. I did not see any of that taking place. Not to mention the sheer volume of chickens they had on hand – thousands upon thousands – there was no way they could keep up with the proper processing of the birds. My suspicions were confirmed when I found out that indeed, dead chicken bodies could be found in dumpsters all over Crown Heights. Some of the following images are graphic. (Photography credit – Enid Crow)
Dumpster full of dead chickens, covered by a tarp.
Another view of dumpster, full of dead chickens.
Dead and discarded chicken
As hard as it might be to believe, there is a bright side to this story. We were able to save the lives of about 20-40 chickens (final count is unknown, but it is in that ballpark). It is for that reason alone that made this emotionally disturbing experience worth it. And you know what? I would do it all again in a heartbeat if it meant more lives could be saved. After all, my emotional disturbance is nothing compared to what those chickens were put through.
Some of the rescued
If you would like to be kept informed about future protests about this issue, please visit Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos to sign up for their mailing list. Many thanks to Rina Deych and Karen Davis for organizing this event and all of the other organizers, supporters and fellow activists for their participation.
09/27/11 UPDATE: I have learned that the total amount of rescued chickens by our group was actually 76! Again, for those 76 individual lives, it was all worth it.