by Mary Ann Baron
Philadelphia Advocates for the Deer (PAD) scheduled their fourth monthly Peace Vigil for the Deer in Fairmount Park for Saturday, Dec. 4, from 2 to 4 p.m. A group of eight members of PAD gathered in front of Valley Green Inn, where the Friends of the Wissahickon were having a members’ Winter Celebration. PAD chose to demonstrate at the inn to draw attention to the role that Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW) played in supporting the initial 1999 deer killing in the Wissahickon Park, and their direct responsibility for its continuation annually since then.
At about 1:45 p.m. PAD members arrived, with placards and a banner with our name on it. The owner of Valley Green Inn, Jack Ott, came outside and asked us to move away from the front of the inn. We refused, stating that we had a right to be there on public property and that we were far enough away from his entrance. About 15 minutes later, Park Rangers arrived to talk with us, with one of the rangers telling us, without giving us a reason, that we should move 30 feet away from the Inn. When we politely refused to move, a second Park Ranger called her supervisor, and then told us she had been told that we needed a permit. I stated that we did not believe a permit was needed for eight people and declined again to leave.
Within about 10 or 15 minutes, the Philadelphia Police arrived in six police cars and a paddy wagon. For some time they stood around and watched us, and then one officer asked why we were there, and I explained why. She said she was going to call Civil Affairs, but we never saw someone from that office or heard back from the officer who said she would call them. Other officers repeatedly approached us to ask about whether we had a permit, and we told them we were waiting to hear from the Civil Affairs Department.
About 20 minutes after the police had arrived, a Sergeant Quinter told us we would have to leave the park because we did not have a permit. I asked if we needed a permit with only eight people, and she responded yes. I asked if we could instead, now move 30 or 40 feet away from the inn, and the Park Ranger there said we could not do it now, since we did not move when originally asked. Our group left at 3 p.m.
I and other PAD members left feeling that we had been treated unfairly. Later, I called the Managing Director’s Office of the City of Philadelphia’s Demonstration Permit Application Office, where I spoke to Robert Allen in the City’s Demonstrations Permit Department’s Special Events Unit. When I asked, Mr. Allen stated we did not need a permit for a demonstration in Fairmount Park with less than 20 people, but their office in the future would appreciate a prior phone call when we are demonstrating.
From our perspective, this incident is not merely a community group of concerned citizens being expelled from Fairmount Park, but two city agencies that gave us misinformation and infringed upon our constitutional rights to protest. We believe our First Amendment rights were infringed upon. Philadelphia Advocates for the Deer (PAD), founded in the Spring, 2010, is a dedicated group of community members protesting the inhumane killing of deer in Fairmount Park that has been going on for the past 11 years, and which will resume early in 2011. Our mission is to cultivate respect for the deer of Fairmount Park and throughout greater Philadelphia. PAD is committed to the long-term ecological health of Philadelphia parks and respect for indigenous animals. At our peace vigils we hold placards, talk to residents who have questions about the issues, and ask people to sign our petition to meet with the Commission on Parks and Recreation and Commissioner, Michael DiBerardinis. PAD works cooperatively with Friends of Animals, an international group that advocates for the right of animals to live freely, on their own terms. FOA is presently protesting the Valley Forge Deer Kill of 2010.
PAD asks that an apology be given to Philadelphia Advocates for the Deer by The Fairmount Park Rangers Corps Chief Ranger, Jamie Hazelton; and the Philadelphia Police Department, as well as some assurance that similar peaceful and law-abiding protests not be infringed upon. PAD members have a legal right to demonstrate about the deer issue in Fairmount Park. We will not stop protesting the deer kill until it stops.
Mary Ann Baron, a resident of Chestnut Hill, is co-founder of Philadelphia Advocates for the Deer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.