A bill to protect animal researchers
Measure passed by state Senate committee may be voted on soon
| 21 August 2008
On Thursday, Aug. 12, the state Senate Public Safety Committee passed a revised bill to criminalize the ongoing harassment of biomedical researchers by extreme animal-rights activists. AB 2296, the California Animal Enterprise Act, would make it a misdemeanor to enter “the residential real property of an academic researcher for the purpose of chilling, preventing the exercise of, or interfering with the researcher’s academic freedom,” or to publish information about researchers or their families with the intent that others commit a crime against them.
If the Senate Appropriations Committee next determines costs to be minimal, the bill may be sent directly to the Senate floor for a vote. AB 2296 would extend to academic researchers who use animals the same protection afforded those who work in reproductive health and who are elected and appointed officials.
In testimony before the committee vote, UC Berkeley Police Sgt. Karen Alberts described “concerted, well-orchestrated campaigns of harassment meant to intimidate and terrorize individuals, many of whom are involved in potentially life-saving research.” Since August 2007 more than 30 campus employees — professors, researchers, and staff members — have been targeted by the extremists, with more than 70 incidents, 20 of them criminal, reported to police.
“It is time to enact legislation that gives law enforcement the tools necessary to protect researchers from the extremists who terrorize them,” Alberts said. “This bill, by creating a new misdemeanor for the public posting of the personal information of researchers and a new misdemeanor for trespass, does just that.”
The penalty for posting personal information for the purposes of inciting violence was set at imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, a fine of not more than $1,000, or both; the penalty for setting foot on the property of a researcher would be the same. The bill defines an “academic researcher” as any person lawfully engaged in academic research who is a student, trainee, or employee of the University of California, California State University, an accredited California community college, or an accredited, degree-granting, nonprofit institution of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
At Berkeley, the 20 criminal incidents of home property damage that have been documented during the past year include broken windows, homes pelted by rocks, and vandalized cars. Other incidents range from harassing phone calls and e-mails to loud, threatening, middle-of-the-night demonstrations by masked activists outside scientists’ homes, and the stalking of researchers’ children.
While harassment of Berkeley researchers has been persistent and frightening to researchers and their families, scientists at other UC campuses have been subjected to more severe harassment. Two weeks ago, for example, the home of one UC Santa Cruz researcher and the car of another were firebombed.
UCLA scientists also have been targeted in recent years: A firebomb scorched the front door of one scientist’s home, while other firebombs were placed near homes and cars but did not explode. One researcher sustained $20,000 in damage to her property after extremists put a garden hose through her window and flooded her home while she was away.
Seven East Bay law-enforcement agencies are investigating these incidents, which also have drawn the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.