Jean-Pierre Garrigues, President of CRAC Europe, the leading anti-bullfighting organization, ordered his troops into nine groups to be strategically positioned at every entry to the bullfighting arena. The town was on lockdown, with barricades 16 feet high and walls of police and military police in riot gear.
Amid blaring sirens and cries of Basta Corrida! we surged towards the arena to the barricades. The chief of police and Mayor Serge Reder ordered that activists be kept 400 meters from the arena in order for the bullfights to continue uninterrupted.
Rodilhan was under siege. Villagers had shuttered their windows, stores were closed and the violence began as soon as we met the barricades. As we rushed towards the center of town, the front lines of each entrance, activists sat down in front of the police line. Rows of activists stood behind them. Swat teams beat, kicked and tear-gassed them, creating chaos as activists retreated to escape the poisonous gas. As some were running away to get medical assistance, others ran towards the police lines. Police then started shooting activists with potentially deadly flash ball guns, seriously injuring at least two people and hurting many more. One woman took a flash-ball in her thigh — those treating her told us there was blood all over the place.
It was like a war zone
Nine activists were evacuated by ambulance and at least two were arrested. At times, there was no visibility — the air thick with tear gas and smoke bombs. Communications were difficult because of all the screaming and sirens.
As Americans, we were appalled at the violence of the police but the real horror show was going inside the arena. We heard the aficionados (bullfighting fans) cheering as bulls and young calves were being tortured and stabbed to death. Many activists, frustrated at not be able to jump into the ring to stop it, were crying and wailing.
The rushing and retreating, the tear gassing and the shooting went on all day from sunrise to sunset. We were treated like cockroaches, said one activist in despair, to be exterminated.
Though we are going back to America, we will not forget our fellow activists nor what happened on October 27 in Rodilhan. We will file a formal complaint about the police brutality at the US Consulate. We have launched a campaign at the French tourist board and French embassies around the US demanding that France abolish animal torture as entertainment or face a national boycott of France. A critical part of the French economy depends on American tourist dollars. Americans have no idea that the French government sanctions animal torture as a culture and art. The French tourist board (an arm of the French government) doesn't want them to know. When they find out, they will be horrified. And we plan to make sure they find out.
What you can do:
Contact the New York City French Tourist Board
The French embassy in Washington D.C. 20007
Carole Raphaelle Davis is West Coast Director of the Companion Animal Protection Society and Director of Campaigns, Europe, for Friends of Animals
Edita Birnkrant is the New York Director of Friends of Animals