Protesters, fair officials tangle over rodeo issue

Police intervene to stop videotaping of inside arena

Monday, July 20, 1998

Kane County Chronicle

By Deborah Niemann

St. Charles – What was expected to be a 10-hour protest at the Kane County Fair lasted less than three hours on Route 38.

Animal rights activists arrived at the fair two hours later than expected, and initially, they attempted to videotape the rodeo from outside the arena fence.

As they began erecting a pole to raise the video camera above the crowd, fair officials and St. Charles police intervened. Ken Kaergaad, director of the Kane County Fair Association, told the protester they could not videotape the rodeo.

Armed with multiple copies of a letter from the Kane County Fair Association, activist Steve Hindi insisted he had a right to videotape the rodeo from outside the arena. The letter from Fair president Larry Breon said no recording equipment of any kind would be allowed in the arena area.

When Kaergaad said taping would not be allowed from outside the arena, Hindi said, "The fair association is a bunch of liars – is that what you are telling me?"

Kaergaad also asked the three men to leave the arena because the Fair Association had decided protesting would only be allowed in an area that had been roped off next to Gate 1, although Hindi argued they had a right to remain there because they were not protesting.

St. Charles police officers intervened and told the activists they would have to leave because the fairgrounds is private property, and as such, fair officials have a right to ask anyone to leave.

Hindi as his associate Greg Campbell accused the police of being in collusion with the Fair Association and threatened to sue the police department.

Campbell encouraged reporters to ask the police who was paying for their overtime. Although he said police were being paid by the Fair Association, Deputy Chief Don Shaw said officers were being paid out of the regular operating budget.

"We just want to preserve the peace here and prevent any problems between people visiting the fair and the protesters," Shaw said. "The officers are paid by the city of St. Charles. I'm pretty vehement about that."

Although the activists gave up on videotaping the rodeo, they did pull out a large banner and three bull horns to stage a protest on Route 38, which is public property. Hindi refused to use the area roped off by the Fair Association, saying, "I am not a cow."

The banner read, "Stop the cruelty" in red letters with large, red drops falling off the letters. Protesters stood at the Route 38 entrance to the fairgrounds and shouted messages, such as, "Rodeos are un-American" and "Do not support the rodeo."

Maryann Gates, an activist who is also a vegetarian, shouted to fairgoers, "The animals are abused for your entertainment."

The protesters also were handing out literature they said dispels myths about rodeos, including, "The rodeo animals are wild and naturally buck."

According to their literature, "In order to get these animals to buck, rodeo participants must resort to shocking, using sharp prods and tying tight flank straps around the animals' sensitive abdomen. Additionally, the rider wears spurs on his boots and must continually spur the animal's sides in order to get the animal to continue bucking."

Hindi said the protest was ended early because the Chicago Animal Rights Coalition members decided to attend the 7 p.m. rodeo to see if the animals were being abused.

Although he had been assured by fair officials the animals would be treated humanly, Hindi said he and other activists saw animals being shocked in the chutes.

He said due to his group's protest and its lawsuit against the Wauconda rodeo, attendance there has dropped by 50 percent in the last three years. His goal is to raise the consciousness of people so they will boycott rodeos.

Tom Carney, 16, of Elburn disagrees with Hindi. He was showing his horse in the 4-H competition and was helping out with the rodeo Saturday.

Carney said cattle prods are not used to shock animals during the rodeo, and it is necessary to twist a bull's tail in order to get them to move because they are very stubborn animals. He also said twisting a bull's tail and using a cattle prod does not hurt the animal.

Although not all fairgoers agreed with Hindi's message, most agreed the protesters had a right to voice their opinion.

"It's their prerogative to protest," said Bill Burns of Wheaton. "We just came for the fair, but I support their efforts."

"I don't think it is that cruel," said Jeff Bodnar of Sugar Grove. "They're entitled to their own opinion. If they want to stand in the hot sun, it's their call."

Hindi said that his group prefers not to protest, however, because the Fair Association will not let them videotape the rodeo, he promised to be back next year with a larger group.

"Next year, we'll have protesters up and down Randall and Route 38," he said.

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