Sen. Mary Jane Garcia and animal rights supporters are stepping into the ring to ban cockfighting in New Mexico, but her opponents want a fight to the death.
After Garcia proposed a legislative ban on cockfighting, cockfighters publicly threatened the lives of the senator and two others, both activists with Animal Protection Voters. The threat, posted on an official cockfighting website, declared that the three would have to “dig their own graves” as a consequence of speaking out against the so-called sport.
Lisa Jennings, executive director of Animal Protection Voters, is one of the activists whose life was threatened by the cockfighters. Said Jennings, “I’ve been targeted in the past. It’s something that I’m not unaccustomed to. But when you start targeting lawmakers for bringing up issues that are controversial, which is central to our democracy, that’s a very dangerous precedent.”
Other vocal supporters of the ban include New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, the state’s district attorneys, the New Mexico Conference of Churches and numerous other faith organizations, the animal rights community, and domestic violence prevention advocates. Supporters of the ban claim that cockfighting encourages violence beyond the ring.
In a cockfight, two male roosters fight to the death in a dusty pit. Among members of the audience, bets are waged on a winning bird. Each rooster is armed with scythe-shaped razors up to three-and-half inches long, affixed to each of the bird’s scrawny legs. The razors are used to hack up the opposing rooster until one is killed, and a bloodied survivor is declared champion. To enhance the intensity and duration of the fight, the birds are injected with drugs to heighten aggression, increase energy and aid blood-clotting to slow their deaths. After the fight, the birds, dead or alive, are typically thrown away.
The driving force behind cockfighting isn’t blood sport or spectacle, says Garcia. It’s gambling. “There is serious money to be made,” said the senator in a written statement. “Depending on the size, entrance fee and number of roosters, individuals have the potential to win as much as $100,000 at cockfighting derbies.” Garcia also cited issues with weapons, drugs and disease. The derbies, she said, “are a public safety hazard.”
Cockfighting is already outlawed in 13 counties and 29 municipalities throughout New Mexico, including Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos. New Mexico and Louisiana remain the only two states in the nation where cockfighting is still legal. While most U.S. states banned cockfighting in the 1800s, New Mexico has taken the mañana approach to passing a bill that would ban cockfights and deem the practice animal cruelty. Under the bill, cockfighting would be punishable as a fourth degree felony, as are all crimes against animals in the state.
“In every other case in New Mexico, intentionally hurting an animal without a lawful justification is already a fourth degree felony,” said Jennings. “This is the only exception to it. It amounts to hurting and killing animals for fun--legally, and we want to close this loophole.”
Jennings, with Animal Protection Voters, has worked diligently since 2001 to outlaw cockfighting in New Mexico, and she is hopeful that this year, the bill will pass. A poll, paid for by Jennings’ organization, found that most New Mexicans, regardless of gender, ethnicity, geographic location or political affiliation, feel that cockfighting is outdated and uncivilized. According to the poll, 81 percent of New Mexicans oppose cockfighting. These results, said Jennings, debunk the myth that cockfighting is a cultural tradition and disprove those who “disingenuously frame it as being related to some sort of ethnic issue.”
In her statement, Sen. Garcia, a self-described “rural Hispanic,” wrote that she is “offended by this argument, which characterizes my culture as barbaric.”
One cockfighter from Los Lunas expressed his outrage at the proposed ban by commenting on an online petition against cockfighting. In his statement, he pleaded with legislators not to “deprive him of his culture” and noted that most of the names on the petition were that of “white women.” “These rooster[s] fight because it’s in their genes--like caterpillars building cacoons [sic],” he said. “Roosters will always fight. They don’t care about laws like yall old white ladies do …”
But it’s not just “old white ladies” who want to see cockfighting banned in New Mexico. Gov. Bill Richardson, presidential hopeful, also supports the ban. “What we know from the poll, and what we know from talking to people,” said Jennings, “is that people consider this a very cruel activity, and that it’s time to do away with it. New Mexicans cherish humane values, and ... we want our policies to reflect those values.”
While the senator and Jennings lobby for a ban, cockfighters endeavor to protect their precious blood sport with intimidation tactics and violent threats. Garcia, however, isn’t backing down. “I will not let them intimidate me out of doing my job as a senator. Believe me—I'm not chicken.”