Berkeley animal rights activists protest horse deaths at Golden Gate Fields

Around 30 people protested outside Golden Gate Fields at midday on Wednesday to object to the deaths of nine racehorses this year and call for the racetrack to be shut down.

The protesters arrayed themselves along the sidewalk facing the entrance to Interstate 580 at Gilman Street, dressed in formal attire and holding cardboard grave markers marked with the names of the dead horses. Some drivers honked in support of the protest as they drove by, while others shouted in support of the racetrack. The action was organized by Direct Action Everywhere, DxE, which has its headquarters in Berkeley.

“They’re being raced to death, and we’re here to shut it down,” said Priya Sawhney, one of DxE’s lead organizers, of the horses at the track. “That is not entertainment. That is violence.”

Many of DxE’s well-known actions have focussed on farm animals and factory farms, rather than racetracks. But based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of concentrated animal feeding areas, “Golden Gate Fields is a factory farm,” said Samantha Eachus, a DxE organizer. The protest’s goal is to shut down Golden Gate Fields and let residents decide what should fill that space, she said.

“We want the people of Albany and Berkeley to get excited about this space,” she added.

DxE organizers contacted Berkeley police on Tuesday to alert the department of the protest, which Berkeley Police Department’s public information officer, Byron White, confirmed. A protest by the group on March 4 resulted in the mass vaccination site at Golden Gate Field closing for around three hours. In that protest, four DxE members linked themselves together, lay down on the track, and set off purple smoke bombs, forcing the cancellation of a number of races. Shortly after that, Golden Gate Fields filed a civil lawsuit against the four demonstrators to ban them permanently from the track.

“It’s always helpful when people let us know beforehand so there’s no surprises,” White said. He encouraged anyone planning a protest to communicate with Berkeley police or the city to help “mitigate any traffic concerns or community safety concerns.”