In a few weeks, if nothing changes, a group of trained federal sharpshooters will come to the East End carrying high-powered rifles with silencers, leave out bait, climb trees at night, and when white-tailed deer appear to nibble at the bait, using their night vision goggles to see them in their sites and pick them off, one by one.
The goal is to kill 3,000 deer during six weeks extending into February and March. There have been suggestions that there could be a repeat performance next year, and then again the year after. At that point, they should have culled as much as half the herd.
But there was a big protest and march this past Saturday, January 18. The protesters had a permit to assemble on the green in front of the Hook Mill, just 200 yards from the center of downtown East Hampton at 1 p.m. They could demonstrate there, walk in a peaceful line, carrying their signs up North Main Street to the traffic light, then on the sidewalk up Newtown Lane to assemble in Herrick Park where speeches would be made. Police would guide them along the way. It might tie things up on a Saturday. But then, it was winter, so it would not be a catastrophe. What the hell.
I really don’t know where I stand on this issue. I blow hot and cold about it. On the one hand, deer are really cute, they are part of nature and are quite beautiful, and who are we humans to be meddling with that?
On the other hand, the deer crash into cars, eat the landscaping vegetation and, most recently, as their numbers have increased, crops, thereby impacting the ability of the farmers to bring in the harvest. They also are carriers of ticks that cause crippling Lyme disease in humans—although what their role is in that is the subject of debate.
Most people think something should be done about the deer. Should we kill them, set out food for them, dart them to sterilize them, put them to sleep and truck them to the Adirondacks, use only bows and arrows on them, use poison darts, slaughter them for their meat to feed the hungry, or bring in lions to eat them? This last was my recommendation, out of frustration, two weeks ago when I proposed in a hoax in this newspaper that lions come here from South Africa and be released. If you believed that, I can tell you it’s safe to come out now. They’re gone.
As for the sharpshooters coming, a petition was circulated among the townspeople of the East End, asking signers to oppose the kill. More than 10,000 people did.
And so, I headed out to the protest around 12:30 p.m. When I arrived at the site, only 20 people or so were there. In 20 minutes, however, 100 more people carrying signs walked over to the grass in front of Hook Mill. By a quarter past one, another 100 arrived. And more were still coming.
I wandered around, taking pictures. Signs read HUNTERS ARE HERE TO STAY, SAY NO TO THE USDA DEER CULL, IT’S MAN’S FAULT and KILL, KILL, KILL, NO, NO, NO.
One woman held a sign that read ALL BEINGS TREMBLE BEFORE VIOLANCE. ALL FEAR DEATH. ALL LOVE LIFE. BUDDHA.
Several people brought boards and magic markers and were industriously making signs right on the front steps of the mill. One sign read WHAT’S NEXT? MUTE SWANS? Several people were watching this. One said “WHAT’S NEXT: PIPING PLOVERS?”
I also saw a man holding up a piece of cardboard reading WILL WORK FOR FOOD.
Another sign had a picture of a deer on it and the words WILL YOU KILL MY PARENTS? LION. Huh? It might have been a reference to my story. Indeed, several people came over to tell me how they had enjoyed that hoax.
People were walking around chatting as if at a party. They talked about deer. They talked about Lyme disease, their children, divorce, high taxes.
“This is like the ’60s,” someone said, referring to all the demonstrations back then. Well, this was the Hamptons, not the ’60s.
People from all walks of life were here. It was the first time I’d seen hunters protesting together with naturalists. People with dogs, people with 6-year-olds carrying signs in crayon, locals with caps, women in expensive winter coats, environmentalists—Larry Penny, the longtime but now retired East Hampton environmental officer, was there. Virginia Frati from the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons was there.
Around 1:30 p.m., a man wearing a MONTAUK peaked cap spoke through a bullhorn to invite everyone to gather around him 50 yards in front of the mill. “We’re about to begin,” he said. This was Bill Crain, head of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife. “Gather around. I’m going to ask a few people to speak. Then, we’re going to walk single file through town. I want to go through several chants. Repeat after me. WHAT DO YOU WANT, STOP THE CULL, WHEN DO YOU WANT IT, NOW.” The crowd obliged. He had them do it again and again. Here was another chant they practiced: “HEY, HEY, WHAT DO YOU SAY, TAKE THOSE KILLERS AND SEND THEM AWAY.”
The first chant was a variation on an earlier one from the Civil Rights Movement. The second was a variation on a football chant led by high school cheerleaders that ends SEND THEM BACK THE OTHER WAY. It was later used in the civil rights era as a reference to LBJ’s sending soldiers to Vietnam. “HEY, HEY LBJ, HOW MANY KIDS DID YOU KILL TODAY?”
Crain invited several people to speak. One was Dell Cullum, a nature photographer who in protest had withdrawn photos he had given to an East Hampton Village nature display. Another was entertainment entrepreneur Ron Delsener, who made a speech that fired up the crowd, telling them that the total cost of the sharpshooters would be $400,000 of taxpayer money. “They’ll be staying here in our hotels and inns with their rifles and ammunition and other weapons.” He also said “Let the hunters do their jobs, this is not Great Neck,” and he said, “what do we do with an overpopulation of humans on the planet at 7 billion, shoot them?”
He also had bad things to say about Councilman Dominick Stanzione, who he said “never consulted any of us,” and about the Mayor of East Hampton Paul Rickenbach.
And then, this huge crowd carrying signs and shouting was off in a great surge toward town.
“How many do you think are here?” someone asked me.
“I think maybe 300,” I said.
Three hundred soon became the accepted size of the crowd as far as the media was concerned. Many photographers stood along the way, photographing the crowd arriving in the center of town, but I decided to walk with Cullum, Delsener, Crain and others at the front, to see what else they had to say.
“Do you know where the mayor lives?” Delsener asked me. “Is it near the center of town?”
“Yes,” I told him.
“We should lead the demonstration right past his house.”
That, I thought, was a terrible idea. Also, they didn’t have a permit to do that. But I didn’t say anything.
“Dan knows where he lives,” Delsener told Crain.
We were now on the sidewalk turning onto Newtown Lane on the east side. I could see the line of demonstrators was so long walking two-by-two that there were still people back at the Hook Mill waiting to leave. On Newtown Lane, store clerks and merchants came out of their stores to see what all the ruckus was about. At this point, Delsener and the others had dropped back into the crowd.
“Dan, look up here,” a photographer said. I smiled. He shot. Now I was leading the demonstration. Oh, what the hell.
“How far do we go up Newtown Lane?” somebody asked.
“I’m just heading up the Lane to go home,” somebody else said.
I thought about it. “We go up and cross the street at the school crosswalk,” I said.
“No, further up. By the school. I’ll give the signal.”
And so, when we got there, I held my left hand out and 300 demonstrators followed me into the park.
In the park, past police officers and police cars waiting for us, we gathered in one enormous group and faced the street and the school across the way.
More speeches were made. More chanting happened. And finally, after another half an hour, the crowd began to break up and melt away and I started on home, safe with my secret of where the mayor lived.
Can anyone tell me if they went to the mayor’s house?