Boys from Bridgeton were once in the movements’ vanguard
BRIDGETON, NJ; PHILADELPHIA, PA––Cruelty charges have been filed against an unnamed 17-year-old Bridgeton, New Jersey resident for allegedly torturing pigeons wounded in live pigeon shoots at the Philadelphia Gun Club by kicking the wounded birds and throwing rocks at them.
Previous cases dismissed
Filed by the Bensalem Police Department, after a heavily publicized two-week investigation, the charges are noteworthy because Bucks County, Pennsylvania district attorney David Heckler in 2010 and 2012 dismissed similar charges brought against other Philadelphia Gun Club employees and members by Pennsylvania Legislative Action Network state certified humane officer Johnna Seeton.
Heckler made the dismissal in the 2010 case conditional on Philadelphia Gun Club president Leo Holt donating $200 to the Bucks County SPCA, which has not participated in investigations and attempted prosecutions of the gun club.
Philadelphia Gun Club attorney Sean Corr has campaigned for Heckler’s re-election. Because of this association, Heckler in 2012 withdrew from a case brought against Corr for allegedly stealing a political campaign sign belonging to a Democrat who was running against Corr’s sister, Republican state representative Margaret Quinn.
SHARK videotaped incident
Showing Animals Respect & Kindness investigator Stu Chaifetz on January 30, 2016 videotaped the actions leading to the criminal case.
“When Chaifetz spoke to the police,” a SHARK media release recounted, “he was told that the gun club members claimed they had no idea who the torturer was. Club members claimed that the torturer had merely wandered onto their property. This was mirrored in a statement sent by the gun club to media, which stated, ‘All we can say now is that we can’t identify who the person is, and we’re cooperating with the police investigation…It appears that he was down range during active shooting, and we don’t station anybody in front of the firing line. That just adds to the mystery.’”
Pigeon shoots “are legal”
SHARK responded, the SHARK media release continued, “by sending a second video to the police that showed the torturer entering and leaving the gun club’s compound, and even interacting with a gun club associate. With that evidence in hand, the police were able to go back to the gun club and get the torturer’s name.”
Pigeon shoots “are legal in Pennsylvania, so there’s nothing we can do about that,” Bensalem police lieutenant William McVey told Philly.com staff writer Dana DiFilippo. “Our concern is the treatment of the animal once shot, to make sure euthanasia is done as humanely and swiftly as possible. In this case, it crossed the line.”
Attorney Christopher Markos, representing SHARK, “said the teen’s behavior may violate the terms of a federal lawsuit the club and SHARK settled last month, in which the club agreed to humanely kill injured birds,” wrote DiFilippo.
“It shows,” said Markos, “that whatever steps the gun club has taken up to keep its promise have been inadequate, so the Bensalem Police Department’s decision to file charges doesn’t satisfy SHARK’s concern that future shoots held at the gun club also won’t comply with the agreement. Right now, SHARK is exploring options in pursuing an appropriate remedy, including returning to court.”
Philadelphia Gun Club attorney Sean Corr told media that the club had cooperated with the police investigation and had helped to ensure that the suspect was charged.
“Why FBI created an animal abuse data base”
But SHARK founder Steve Hindi was skeptical.
“It is unfortunate,” Hindi said, “that the gun club sought to mislead both the police and media as to their connection to the torturer, but in the end the truth came out. We believe it is important that this person be prosecuted not just for the cruelty to animals, but also because someone who causes such pain and suffering to animals may pose a danger to people as well. That’s why the FBI created an animal abuse data base,” debuting earlier in 2016.
The latest set of criminal charges against a Philadelphia Gun Club employee came less than a month after SHARK listed that the club property is now listed as a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency, meaning that it is a high priority for clean-up. At issue is lead pollution from hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition fired out over the Delaware River and adjacent land since 1894, when the club moved to the present location.
SHARK has contended since 2010 that the Philadelphia Gun Club has hosted pigeon shoots in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, and should have been required to produce an environmental impact study.
In September 2012, Delaware Riverkeeper Network riverkeeper Maya van Rossum won a federal court ruling that the Philadelphia Gun Club had violated the Clean Water Act by “grossly polluting the river with large quantities of birdshot, casings and dead and dying pigeons during its shoots,” Hindi summarized at the time. The Philadelphia Gun Club was directed to “apply to state environmental authorities for a ‘national pollutant discharge elimination system’ permit,” Hindi continued, but the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in 2013 gave the club “a free pass to pollute and create a dangerous situation on the Delaware River.”
“As the state’s environmental agency,” Hindi said, “the DEP should have denied that permit, based on the continuing pollution committed by the Philadelphia Gun Club every time they hold a shoot.”
A strike for a horse
The pending cruelty case against the 17-year-old Philadelphia Gun Club employee from Bridgeton, New Jersey, has ironic historical resonance.
On May 5, 1900, newspapers throughout the U.S. and Canada reported, “One of the most unique strikes ever heard of occurred in the works of a glass company at Bridgeton, New Jersey. Five shops in full blast were compelled to shut down on account of about 100 boys going out.
“The company has a horse,” syndicated coverage explained, “which it works all day and then puts in at night and works him until midnight. The boys gave notice that unless this was stopped they would not work.
“The boys walked out”
“The horse was worked as usual last night and the boys walked out. More than 100 journeymen are thrown out of work on account of the strike. The boys say they will not go to work while the poor horse is overworked, and the blowers are compelled to stay out also.”
The boys involved were child laborers, probably mostly immigrants or sons of immigrants, about the age of the suspect in the Philadelphia Gun Club case and younger.
The Cumberland Glass Works, opened in August 1880 by Jos. A. Clark & Co., offered notoriously dangerous working conditions, with a total payroll of about $1,000 per week, divided initially among about 100 day workers.
History of labor unrest
The Cumberland Glass Works also had a history of labor unrest, much of it ugly. Reported the Roanoke Times in September 1891, “Tending boys refused to work with Jews and colored boys this morning, placing iron bars across the gates and threatening to stone to death any Jews who attempted to go to work. Six Jews were discharged by the company, and the boys will now go to work without further trouble.”
But company collaboration in playing ethnic factions against each other to forestall strikes over working conditions and wages appears to have failed after a December 1892 incident in which three brick masons nearly lost their lives when a smokestack collapsed. A strike followed, four days later, which ran into January 1893.
Horse sided with strikers
Frequent strikes continued for more than a decade. The Cumberland Glass Works sought to break a strike in 1899 by hiring scabs.
Reported the May 6, 1899 edition of the Trenton Evening Times, “A horse of the Cumberland Glass Company, which is used to haul non-union men to and from their work, balked yesterday and could not be persuaded to continue with his pull. The non-union men had to get out and walk, and the strikers immediately claimed the horse as one more accession to their ranks.”
This may well have been the horse for whom the working boys struck almost a year to the day later.
What became of the horse apparently went unreported, but the strike over the horse was editorially praised even by newspapers which were usually hostile toward organized labor, and attracted the personal interest of American Federation of Labor founder Samuel Gompers. By 1904 the Cumberland Glass Company and a second Bridgeton firm, the Moore Jonas Glass Company, had instituted raises to all personnel of ten to twenty percent.
Caroline Earle White
Prosecution of a Philadelphia Gun Club employee for cruelty also has historical resonance.
The present management of the Women’s Humane Society of Philadelphia, together with the Bucks County SPCA, has largely ignored the frequent Philadelphia Gun Club pigeon shots. But Women’s Humane Society and American Anti-Vivisection Society founder Caroline Earle White (1833-1916) at least once successfully prosecuted Philadelphia Gun Club pigeon shooters.
Judge Harman Yerkes
The January 27, 1890 edition of The New York Times reported that club member A. Nelson Lewis was convicted by Judge Harman Yerkes of cruelty to animals for participating in a December 1887 shoot at the original club headquarters in Andalusia, Bucks County.
“In his opinion, Judge Yerkes declared that the act of March 1869, under which the indictment was framed, is intended to bring all brute creation under the shelter of the law,” The New York Times recounted.
A Civil War veteran who practiced law for 63 years and for 20 years was president of the Bucks County Court, Yerkes called pigeon shooting an “offense against public morals, which the commission of cruel and barbaric acts offend.”