A group of a few dozen animal rights activists succeeded in preventing some human people from getting their COVID vaccines in the East Bay today.
About 30 protesters arrived at Golden Gate Fields Thursday around noon, the racetrack that sits beside I-80 at edge of Berkeley and Albany, some of them holding a large banner that read "Shut Down Golden Gate Fields." The protest comes after a fifth horse has died at the track since the beginning of the year — and following two years in which dozens of horses have died there.
As KPIX reports via Berkeley spokesperson Matthai Chakko, five protesters chained themselves to a fence outside the racetrack, and some protesters also moved into the parking area where a mass-vaccination site has been open for two weeks.
Four protesters, identified as being with the group Direct Action Everywhere, made their way onto the track itself, as the East Bay Times reports, chaining themselves together and lying down on the track. A press release from the group also shows purple smoke flares burning near them on the track.
Officers from both the Albany and Berkeley police departments as well as Berkeley Fire Department personnel reportedly arrived on the scene, and officers could be seen turning away cars that were arriving for vaccine appointments. Chakko told Berkeleyside that at least 100 vaccination appointments had to be canceled due to the disruption.
Officials said that they were working to get the vaccine site back open.
"Initially, we had to shut the site down for safety," Berkeley Fire Department spokesman Assistant Chief of Special Operations Keith May told the East Bay Times. "Since it wasn’t the protesters’ mission to shut down the vaccine site, we’re in the process of trying to get it open. It’s because of those four individual protesters that we had to close it. You don’t know the intent of the protesters until they’re out there."
38 racehorses died at Golden Gate fields in 2019, and over 22 horses died there in 2020. The Berkeley City Council penned a letter in November asking the state's Horse Racing Board chairman Gregory Ferraro to launch an investigation into the Stronach Group, which owns Golden Gate Fields as well as Santa Anita Park in Arcadia.
"What is causing the deaths of these horses? What measures can be done to prevent such deaths from occurring? The City of Berkeley has long supported the wellbeing of animals, so hearing of these reports of multiple deaths is alarming," the council wrote.
Direct Action Everywhere, aware that this vaccine situation might be slightly bad PR for them, posted a video at 2:30 p.m. apparently showing cars being let back into the vaccine site. They say they "fully support" the vaccine site being reopened.
The group posted a press release coinciding with the protest, which focused on the fact that their demonstration caused racing at the track today to be delayed or canceled.
"These beautiful animals live lives of exploitation and abuse for the sake of profit, then they’re killed for the same reason," said Chau. "The public is increasingly aware of the reality of this barbaric industry, and is demanding that we leave it in the past."
Direct Action Everywhere was sued in 2018 by the California arm of Whole Foods following several years in which its members occupied and protested at Whole Foods stores over the company's sale of meat and eggs that it says come from inhumane farms.