Local Berkeley establishments targeted by animal rights activists

Catherine Wallin/Staff

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After weeks of protests by animal rights activist group Direct Action Everywhere, or DXE, since April, The Local Butcher Shop on Shattuck Avenue ceded to demands of DXE protesters, namely by posting a sign on the business’s window reading, “Attention: Animals’ lives are their right. Killing them is violent and unjust, no matter how it’s done.”

In exchange, DXE agreed to limit its protests of the shop to twice a year.

“We did end up negotiating with them primarily out of respect to our neighbors, who were pretty fed up with the bull horns and yelling and shouting every night,” said Monica Rocchino, one of the owners of The Local Butcher Shop.

DXE advocates for total animal liberation — which holds that there is “never a humane way to kill someone who does not want to die,” according to DXE activist Cassie King.

The protests occurred on the public sidewalk in front of The Local Butcher Shop every Sunday for 12 weeks — a time when the shop hosted butchery classes for the community.

DXE gave the owners of The Local Butcher Shop options ranging from ending the store’s butchery classes to turning the entire butchery vegan.

“They aren’t comfortable with that (option) yet,” King said. “But that is the ultimate goal that we have with every institution that is exploiting animals in Berkeley.”

The owners were told their store was targeted for multiple reasons, including its close proximity to DXE headquarters and because the nearby public sidewalk made for “a great training ground” as opposed to a private property of a restaurant or a grocery store, Rocchino said.

Private property laws, however, have not stopped DXE protests in the past.

The DXE protesters have also previously targeted Chez Panisse, an acclaimed restaurant in the North Berkeley neighborhood. Protesters have entered and “dramatically” disrupted customers’ evenings, according to Jennifer Sherman, Chez Panisse’s general manager.

“People wait a really long time to come here — for their 50th anniversary, or when they’re proposing to someone. … It’s incredibly upsetting,” Sherman said.

Chez Panisse does not intend to negotiate with DXE, according to Sherman.

“We are a restaurant that serves meat and we serve the most carefully vetted and sourced meats  — and we believe in that,” Sherman said.

Sherman added, however, that they respect DXE’s right to protest and will do their best to find a space for the group to express their opinion, hoping the “community can express tolerance.” In addition, Sherman suggested DXE can shift its focus to “establishments that are part of the industrial meat process that are egregious abusers of human and animal rights.”

While DXE organizer Matt Johnson said the group protests against any place “where that violence is happening or anywhere where that violence is normalized,” DXE continues to protest smaller businesses.

“If you go to a big chain — I mean, who is going to respond to them? A CEO of a company is not going to come out and talk to them. With a small business, they have a larger voice,” Monica Rocchino said.  

DXE protested Comal, a modern Mexican restaurant located on Shattuck Avenue, on Wednesday evening, escalating into a citizen’s arrest for battery and trespassing, as reported by East Bay Times. Berkeley Police Department could not be reached as of press time to verify the arrest. The protesters returned Thursday, marching from the BPD station on Martin Luther King Jr. Way to Comal.

“I just thought it was interesting because there are other places that serve meat and they chose this one, and, I don’t know, it seems fine,” said Comal customer Kendall Fulton after Thursday’s protest.

Johnson said the “pressure campaign” approach to protest local shops, as opposed to national businesses such as Costco, allows the activist group to achieve a “localized victory.”

King added that the strategy will be implemented at other local institutions until “every business in Berkeley owns up to this reality.”

They also hope to make change on a national scale — King cited the organization’s goal to pass “a constitutional amendment that would give them protection under the law.”

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín issued an emailed statement Friday regarding the recent protests outside of The Local Butcher Shop:

“I respect people’s passion for social causes as well as their right to express their opinions but the recent action undertaken by animal rights protesters against The Local Butcher Shop is harassment — plain and simple,” the statement read. “Demanding that the store hang a sign stating the group’s views in exchange for an end to protests is coercive, improper and not the way to treat a much-loved local business. Our independent stores are the lifeline of our community and should not be harassed for simply doing their jobs.”

Contact Alicia Kim at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @aliciackim.