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University Goes to Court to Stop Animal Activists


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.



And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

The University of California hopes a court will stop an escalating war with animal rights activists. Some faculty members experiment on animals, so animal rights groups have targeted the faculty. And lawyers for the university want a permanent court order to stop the activists before somebody gets hurt.

NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN: On a quiet weekend afternoon in a tree-lined neighborhood near the University of California Berkeley campus, five young men and women, some wearing ski masks, stand in front of a house and start screaming.

Unidentified Man #1: You must, you must, you must understand.


Unidentified Group: Their blood, their blood, their blood is on your hands.

KAHN: The protesters all look to be in their 20s and are targeting the home of a U.C. Berkeley researcher. A campus spokesman confirms that the faculty member uses cats in his research at the school of optometry. That's enough to make him a regular target of profanity-laced chants from animal rights activists.

Similar protests have occurred at the homes of U.C. researchers in Santa Cruz and in Los Angeles. And along with the chants, there have been threats.

(Soundbite of audio)

Unidentified Man #2: There's a bomb out in the car. Don't go out and start your car.

KAHN: That voicemail was left on the phone of a researcher at UCLA's Center for HIV Prevention. There was no bomb, but incendiary devices were found at the home of a UCLA behavioral scientist and under the car of a campus ophthalmologist. Both use primates in their lab work. Another faculty member's home was flooded with a garden hose. The school confirms that she uses primates for a tobacco addiction study.

So far authorities have no suspects.

Mr. ROBERTO PECCEI (Vice Chancellor, University of California, Los Angeles): We were deep asleep, because it must have been 3:30, 4 o'clock in the morning, and then we heard this enormous bang on the front door.

KAHN: U.C. Vice Chancellor Roberto Peccei and his wife were visited by demonstrators in the middle of the night.

Mr. PECCEI: Then somebody shouting, saying, you will never sleep in peace again.

KAHN: By the time the police came, the demonstrators were gone. But the protests continued and escalated to include other faculty. That prompted the U.C. regents to get a restraining order against five animal rights protesters who frequently picket researchers' homes.

Peccei says activists were also ordered to shut down two Web sites that publish U.C. faculty names and home addresses.

Mr. PECCEI: We are very cognizant that we don't want to prevent people from having opposing views, but we do want to prevent people from having behavior that is really not acceptable.

KAHN: But one of the targets of that injunction says the university is going after the wrong people.

(Soundbite of door squeaking)

KAHN: Lindy Greene pushes open the kitchen door of her small apartment in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley. It's a mini animal rescue center. She has rabbit cages on her kitchen table and cats at her feet.

Ms. LINDY GREENE (Animal rights activist): This is Hailey.

(Soundbite of cat meowing)

Ms. GREENE: Yes, honey.

KAHN: The 61-year-old Greene is one of the named defendants in UCLA's restraining order. She says she joined the animal rights movement 20 years ago, when she had more teeth and fewer wrinkles. Greene says she and her fellow animal lovers don't do anything illegal.

Ms. GREENE: We're above-ground activists, and we simply get out and picket. We speak about what we consider to be grievous animal abuse, fraudulent science.

KAHN: In court documents, victims claim Greene has screamed threats at them and referred to the fire bombings. She's already been arrested once for defying the restraining order.

U.C. regents lawyer John Huston says the school has to use aggressive legal tactics to protect its employees.

Mr. JOHN HUSTON (Lawyer, U.C. Regents): These defendants may not have lit the fuse on those Molotov cocktails, but when they are citing those and telling these faculty members they're going to be back to burn their houses down, they are willingly engaging in a campaign of illegal harassment and intimidation that is not tolerated under American law and is not protected as speech.

KAHN: Huston says a new state law that proposes to stiffen penalties for violence against animal researchers will deter activists bent on committing illegal activities.

Unidentified Group: We'll be back. We'll be back. We'll be back.

KAHN: The masked activists we saw at the home of the Berkeley researcher disagree. U.C. police say that same day, windows were broken at the homes of other Berkeley scientists. Once again, police have suspicions, but now suspects in custody.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.