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Opponents of cockfighting in Oklahoma are concerned about growing support for weakening the state’s ban on the bloody sport.

Until Oklahoma became one of the last places in the United States to outlaw cockfighting in 2002, hundreds of spectators were packed into small arenas in the state’s countryside, often using razor-sharp steel. It was not uncommon to see roosters equipped with blades. Fight to the bloody death.

More than 20 years after the ban went into effect, some worry that Oklahoma is starting to waver.

A proposal to ease penalties for cockfighting has passed the Oklahoma Legislature. A political action committee is raising money to support farmers who raise gamecocks. And in a video that has since been removed from YouTube, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt recorded a message of support for the group known as the Oklahoma Gamecock Committee, saying he would “cheer from the sidelines.”

“They tried to give it an official-sounding name,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, which worked to exclude Oklahoma voters and outlaw the practice 20 years ago. ” he said. “But they’re just a bunch of cockfighters.”

Before the ban, he said, rural Oklahoma counties were dotted with cockfighting arenas, large barns with stadium-style seating, overhead lighting and even concession stands. The event attracted several hundred spectators, including children and families. After a major event, it was not uncommon for dead birds to be scattered around the grounds after a desperate struggle.

“We went from 42 arenas to probably having 10 or 15 pits in the state,” he said.

The reemergence of the cockfighting issue at the Oklahoma State Capitol has frustrated opponents who until recently thought the issue was long gone. Chicken fighting is illegal at the federal level, with violations punishable by up to five years in prison.However, a series of recent Cockfighting-related arrest both in oklahoma and elsewhere too It also serves as a reminder that the practice is not so much eradicated as it is driven underground.

Hawaii police said they would step up enforcement efforts after last year’s worst mass shooting in the state’s history. 5 people shot dead in cockfightIncluding 2 deaths.

Stitt said he records dozens of videos each week, but doesn’t think much about his participation. “Of course I’m not in favor of fighting gamecocks in Oklahoma,” he told The Associated Press. But he also signaled he would be open to reducing the fines if legislation were introduced by the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

The video sparked a bipartisan backlash across Oklahoma, including from former Gov. Frank Keating, a fellow Republican. Oklahoma football legend Barry Switzer, who won three national championships and a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys and was nicknamed simply “King” in the state, was also born after Stitt.

But Anthony DeVore, chairman of the Gamecock Commission, is unfazed by the backlash. His organization has 15,000 members, most of whom he said are hard-working rural Oklahomans. His group has raised more than $70,000 to lobby lawmakers and is trying to replicate the model in several other conservative southern states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi. .

DeVore said they raise birds to participate in poultry shows and sell them overseas as breeding stock. Although cockfighting is illegal in many countries, it remains legal and popular in some states of Mexico, the Philippines, and some countries in Southeast Asia.

“We represent gamecock farmers who breed and raise gamecocks, but not for combat purposes,” said Devore, who is himself a gamecock breeder.

However, DeVore confirmed that his organization’s former district director had resigned and had been arrested and charged. promote cockfighting after Carter County authorities raided a cockfighting ring where more than 100 people were in attendance. That criminal case is pending.

DeVore and the others acknowledge they are operating in a gray area of ​​the law, arguing that reduced penalties would eliminate the threat of felony charges.

The initiative is welcome news to former high school teacher and coach Troy Thompson. He now raises thousands of birds full-time each year on a 55-acre ranch dotted with white tent-like buildings near the far southern town of Wilson. Just 30 miles north of the Red River border with Oklahoma and Texas.

Thompson, 50, said the chickens on his farm are kept on leashes to prevent them from fighting with each other, and are provided with vitamins, year-round green grass and the highest quality feed available. It is said that it is given. He says his chickens have a much better life than those on typical chicken farms, where they are raised in small cages and slaughtered at about six weeks old.

“My 10-year-old rooster died last week,” he said. “They have a much better life here than they would at the Tyson chicken farm.”

Thompson said he grew up when cockfighting was legal and dozens of farms dotted the hills of southern Oklahoma. In his childhood he played T-ball and the name of his team was the Dillard Fighting Cox.

“Will it end today?” he asked. “It’s amazing that you were sentenced to 10 years in prison when it was completely legal.”

Additionally, some law enforcement officials and prosecutors have recently cracked down on people breeding and fighting birds, with some arrests made in recent days. both in urban areas and rural areasProsecutors say it is unlikely anyone will be sentenced to prison for cockfighting.

“There probably won’t be very many (people in jail),” said Greg Mashburn, the top prosecutor for three central Oklahoma counties. “In the 18 years I’ve been a prosecutor, there have only been two cases.”

Still, Mashburn said it was important to enforce anti-cockfighting laws because criminals are often involved in activities involving illegal drugs and gambling.

“It’s also cruel to the animals,” Mashburn said. “So where do you draw the line? If we allow chickens to do that, why shouldn’t dogs and other animals fight to the death?”

Still, some animal rights activists say other local sheriffs and prosecutors often turn a blind eye to the practice. The anti-cockfighting law passed in 2002 with 56% of the vote, with 57 of the state’s 77 counties supporting legalization.

Former county prosecutor and Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson currently serves as the law enforcement co-chair of Animal Wellness Action. He said it’s easy to understand why some elected officials in Oklahoma, even the sheriff, turn a blind eye when it comes to cockfighting.

He called it “a combination of money and politics.”

“It’s very easy for local politicians to soft-pedal and ask that it not be treated as a serious crime because 60, 70, 80 percent of the county voted ‘no’ on this issue. ” he said.

Summarize this content to 100 words Until Oklahoma became one of the last places in the United States to outlaw cockfighting in 2002, hundreds of spectators were packed into small arenas in the state’s countryside, often using razor-sharp steel. It was not uncommon to see roosters equipped with blades. Fight to the bloody death.More than 20 years after the ban went into effect, some worry that Oklahoma is starting to waver. A proposal to ease penalties for cockfighting has passed the Oklahoma Legislature. A political action committee is raising money to support farmers who raise gamecocks. And in a video that has since been removed from YouTube, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt recorded a message of support for the group known as the Oklahoma Gamecock Committee, saying he would “cheer from the sidelines.”

“They tried to give it an official-sounding name,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, which worked to exclude Oklahoma voters and outlaw the practice 20 years ago. ” he said. “But they’re just a bunch of cockfighters.”Before the ban, he said, rural Oklahoma counties were dotted with cockfighting arenas, large barns with stadium-style seating, overhead lighting and even concession stands. The event attracted several hundred spectators, including children and families. After a major event, it was not uncommon for dead birds to be scattered around the grounds after a desperate struggle.

“We went from 42 arenas to probably having 10 or 15 pits in the state,” he said.The reemergence of the cockfighting issue at the Oklahoma State Capitol has frustrated opponents who until recently thought the issue was long gone. Chicken fighting is illegal at the federal level, with violations punishable by up to five years in prison.However, a series of recent Cockfighting-related arrest both in oklahoma and elsewhere too It also serves as a reminder that the practice is not so much eradicated as it is driven underground.Hawaii police said they would step up enforcement efforts after last year’s worst mass shooting in the state’s history. 5 people shot dead in cockfightIncluding 2 deaths.Stitt said he records dozens of videos each week, but doesn’t think much about his participation. “Of course I’m not in favor of fighting gamecocks in Oklahoma,” he told The Associated Press. But he also signaled he would be open to reducing the fines if legislation were introduced by the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

The video sparked a bipartisan backlash across Oklahoma, including from former Gov. Frank Keating, a fellow Republican. Oklahoma football legend Barry Switzer, who won three national championships and a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys and was nicknamed simply “King” in the state, was also born after Stitt. But Anthony DeVore, chairman of the Gamecock Commission, is unfazed by the backlash. His organization has 15,000 members, most of whom he said are hard-working rural Oklahomans. His group has raised more than $70,000 to lobby lawmakers and is trying to replicate the model in several other conservative southern states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi. .DeVore said they raise birds to participate in poultry shows and sell them overseas as breeding stock. Although cockfighting is illegal in many countries, it remains legal and popular in some states of Mexico, the Philippines, and some countries in Southeast Asia. “We represent gamecock farmers who breed and raise gamecocks, but not for combat purposes,” said Devore, who is himself a gamecock breeder. However, DeVore confirmed that his organization’s former district director had resigned and had been arrested and charged. promote cockfighting after Carter County authorities raided a cockfighting ring where more than 100 people were in attendance. That criminal case is pending. DeVore and the others acknowledge they are operating in a gray area of ​​the law, arguing that reduced penalties would eliminate the threat of felony charges.The initiative is welcome news to former high school teacher and coach Troy Thompson. He now raises thousands of birds full-time each year on a 55-acre ranch dotted with white tent-like buildings near the far southern town of Wilson. Just 30 miles north of the Red River border with Oklahoma and Texas.

Thompson, 50, said the chickens on his farm are kept on leashes to prevent them from fighting with each other, and are provided with vitamins, year-round green grass and the highest quality feed available. It is said that it is given. He says his chickens have a much better life than those on typical chicken farms, where they are raised in small cages and slaughtered at about six weeks old.“My 10-year-old rooster died last week,” he said. “They have a much better life here than they would at the Tyson chicken farm.”Thompson said he grew up when cockfighting was legal and dozens of farms dotted the hills of southern Oklahoma. In his childhood he played T-ball and the name of his team was the Dillard Fighting Cox. “Will it end today?” he asked. “It’s amazing that you were sentenced to 10 years in prison when it was completely legal.”Additionally, some law enforcement officials and prosecutors have recently cracked down on people breeding and fighting birds, with some arrests made in recent days. both in urban areas and rural areasProsecutors say it is unlikely anyone will be sentenced to prison for cockfighting.”There probably won’t be very many (people in jail),” said Greg Mashburn, the top prosecutor for three central Oklahoma counties. “In the 18 years I’ve been a prosecutor, there have only been two cases.”Still, Mashburn said it was important to enforce anti-cockfighting laws because criminals are often involved in activities involving illegal drugs and gambling.

“It’s also cruel to the animals,” Mashburn said. “So where do you draw the line? If we allow chickens to do that, why shouldn’t dogs and other animals fight to the death?”Still, some animal rights activists say other local sheriffs and prosecutors often turn a blind eye to the practice. The anti-cockfighting law passed in 2002 with 56% of the vote, with 57 of the state’s 77 counties supporting legalization.Former county prosecutor and Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson currently serves as the law enforcement co-chair of Animal Wellness Action. He said it’s easy to understand why some elected officials in Oklahoma, even the sheriff, turn a blind eye when it comes to cockfighting.He called it “a combination of money and politics.” “It’s very easy for local politicians to soft-pedal and ask that it not be treated as a serious crime because 60, 70, 80 percent of the county voted ‘no’ on this issue. ” he said.

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https://www.cbsnews.com/news/oklahoma-cockfighting-opponents-worry-support-growing-to-weaken-ban/ Opponents of cockfighting in Oklahoma are concerned about growing support for weakening the state’s ban on the bloody sport.

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