Cockfighters reasonably believe they’re innocent


WAYNE HUTTO might well have been telling the truth last week, when the teary cockfighter pleaded with a judge for mercy, assuring her that he loved his “royal” chickens and believed that fighting them was merely helping them to fulfill their destiny, that he was upholding the traditions of South Carolina that city folks couldn’t possibly understand or appreciate. He probably convinced himself that he had done nothing wrong when he bred them for their fighting ability and ran a facility where people came to watch and wager as the drugged-up chickens with little spurs strapped to their feet fought to the death.

Indeed, there’s something pathetically sincere about many cockfighters, who, having been initiated into this blood sport by their parents and their parents before them, simply can’t fathom why anyone could possibly object.


We certainly ought to empathize with them — because we share the blame for their ignorance. We don’t take cockfighting seriously. We label it a misdemeanor, and slap people on the wrist if we catch them. Sort of like speeding, or maybe running a red light. What do we expect them to think?

What do we expect them to think when they can get away with openly identifying themselves, showing off their facilities, declaring before a legislative panel that they are cockfighters and will not stop being cockfighters — and threatening any legislators who dare try to toughen the law? What do we expect them to think when, even in the face of such lawless behavior, the Legislature refuses to strengthen the law, time after time after time?

Oh, we may know that’s because a handful of belligerent legislators use secret maneuvers to block the will of the majority; but to the uninitiated, it is the will of the majority that their “crime” remain barely that. And they’re not entirely wrong: The majority obviously doesn’t care enough to stand up to the cockfighting sympathizers in their midst and pass the bills over their objections.

So it must have come as quite a surprise to a lot of cockfighters when the U.S. attorney’s office issued indictments against them last year. The U.S. attorney had to do what the state attorney general or local solicitors should have done, but really couldn’t because our laws make prosecutions a joke — and further cockfighters’ disdain for the law. It obviously came as an even greater surprise when a federal judge handed down real sentences — a year in prison for Mr. Hutto and his wife; 21 months the next day for another cockfighter.

We’re glad to have the assistance of the federal government, since the Legislature has tied the hands of our own prosecutors — and since it shows no inclination to change. This year, even as we were hearing lurid testimony in federal court, the Legislature completely ignored the topic.

Cockfighting indeed has deep roots in our state. But it is not an innocent activity, and you don’t have to be an animal-rights activist — or even an animal lover — to object. You need only be a people lover. Cockfighting is a gateway blood sport that teaches observers and participants that it’s fun to watch living creatures endure pain. It’s inextricably linked to illegal drugs and gambling. And because the cockfighting and the drugs and the gambling are illegal, participants become comfortable in the underground world that has grown up around it — and that they themselves have grown up around.

We have a responsibility to help the people immersed in this culture understand that what they’re doing is illegal and intolerable. The way we do that is by insisting that the Legislature apply some real penalties to their crimes.
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~ by politicaesaccion on August 3, 2010.

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