True Crime Stories: I Was Arrested for Filming a Protest
Corporations seem more concerned with shielding the practices of their suppliers from the public than with the cruelty and disease documented in those farms. They know that the public would be horrified if they saw the truth. But what these corporations don’t understand is that repression often makes movements stronger. I’m not going to stop talking about what happens to animals, and I’m not going to stop documenting protests.
Earlier this month I sat in a jail cell in the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. I had been arrested on two felonies and was being held on $40,000 bail. My crime? Filming a protest.
I am the lead organizer of the grassroots animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). We recently released an investigation at a Foster Farms turkey farm in California showing sick and collapsed turkey chicks, a litter beetle infestation, and dead chicks whose brains and eyes had been eaten out by insect larvae. In the midst of a nationwide turkey shortage caused by a highly virulent and deadly strain of avian influenza, our footage shows the unsanitary conditions that help facilitate the spread of pandemics on modern poultry farms.
Foster Farms is the largest poultry producer in California and supplies stores including Safeway, Walmart, and Target. To call attention to our findings and pressure Safeway to cut ties with Foster Farms, Zoe Rosenberg, one of the investigators, entered a Safeway in Berkeley, poured washable fake blood on the floor in front of a freezer full of turkeys, and delivered a speech. I recorded it.
We didn’t interact with management or police, and both nonviolently left when the protest was over and went our separate ways. Fifteen minutes later, walking on the streets of Berkeley alone, I was surrounded by several police SUVs and, after a drive-by identification by Safeway management, handcuffed and arrested on felony conspiracy and felony mischief. Zoe was not arrested.
You might think this protest is cringey, maybe even counterproductive. You might think it disrespectful to leave a mess for employees to clean up. (As a former Safeway employee, I certainly wish high-level executives would be the ones to have to do the cleaning.) Maybe you think Zoe should have been arrested. The debates around disruptive and polarizing tactics are mainstays within most social justice movements -- and made headlines recently following Just Stop Oil’s protest in which two climate activists threw tomato soup onto van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” in the UK. But no matter where you stand on those tactics, I hope you agree that what is happening to turkeys on factory farms is atrocious, and that documenting a protest shouldn’t land you in jail.
My arrest was a citizen’s arrest, meaning it was Safeway who pushed for the police to charge me. While disappointing, this is not surprising. Similar to so-called “ag gag” laws that criminalize whistleblowers in animal agriculture, major grocery store chains have been trying to silence DxE activists in California for years.
In 2018, Whole Foods had DxE’s co-founder arrested for simply asking a question inside one of their Colorado locations. In 2019, Whole Foods and Costco secured statewide injunctions banning DxE activists and anyone associated with us from taking any action to “advance our mission” inside their California stores.
Whole Foods, Costco, and now Safeway seem more concerned with shielding the practices of their suppliers from the public than with the cruelty and disease documented in those farms. They know that the public would be horrified if they saw the truth.
But what these corporations don’t understand is that repression often makes movements stronger. I’m not going to stop talking about what happens to animals, and I’m not going to stop documenting protests. In fact, DxE went right back to Safeway last week and projected our investigatory footage onto their building.
At my arraignment, my charges were amended to one misdemeanor. I pled not guilty. Because the real crime is what is happening at Foster Farms.
Almira Tanner is a Berkeley resident and the Lead Organizer of the global grassroots animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere (DxE).