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Monday, March 17, 2008

'Aloha' Should Mean 'Goodbye' to Cockfighting

As the 2008 Summer Olympics approach in Beijing, it’s hard to imagine that cockfighting will ever be up there with gymnastics and swimming. But one state lawmaker is imploring the United Nations to “officially commemorate cockfighting as a global sport.” Hawaii Rep. Rida Cabanilla (D-42nd) has introduced two resolutions, HR 153 and HCR 180, which wax poetic on the Founding Fathers’ supposed affinity for fighting cocks, and the valiant cockfighters of present day who are “unwilling to lose or forget that tradition.”

281x196_cockfighting_poster_3 Cabanilla, of course, is swimming against the tide. Even before the Michael Vick dogfighting scandal jolted the American conscience, there had been a steady and methodical upgrading of our nation’s laws to combat animal fighting. Dogfighting and cockfighting are now banned nationwide, with dogfighting punished as a felony in all 50 states and cockfighting a felony in 37. What’s more, it’s now a federal felony to move animals across state or national borders for the purpose of fighting, or to traffic in cockfighting weapons.

In Hawaii, cockfighting has been banned since 1884, during the reign of King David Kalakaua. But the law is plainly out of date. Indeed, Hawaii has one of the weakest anti-cockfighting laws in the U.S., providing only misdemeanor punishment, a maximum $2,000 fine and one year in prison. There are no sanctions against possessing fighting birds and weapons, or for attending cockfights.

Sen. Will Espero (D-20th) is rightly working to put teeth into Hawaii’s feeble law, and has introduced SB 2552 to make cockfighting a felony. Rep. John Mizuno (D-30th) and Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland (D-13th) have introduced another pair of bills, HB 2476 and SB 2133, to strengthen the anti-dogfighting statute. This collection of anti-crime and anti-cruelty bills would bring us one step closer to eradicating the dogfighitng and cockfighting industries in Hawaii, and—unlike Cabanilla’s proposal—that’s a goal that cannot be achieved too soon.

It’s likely that Cabanilla’s entreaty to the UN will just fizzle and die. According to State Net’s Capitol Journal, “This isn’t Rep. Cabanilla’s first venture into controversial legislative waters. A few years back she proposed a bill that would have forced teachers to be weighed every six months, with sanctions against those deemed to be too heavy. That one didn’t go anywhere either.”

281x144_rooster_istock_2 The last time someone in Hawaii tried to make cockfighting a “global sport,” in fact, he was arrested at the Honolulu airport. Joseph Marty Toralba returned last month from an international cockfighting derby in the Philippines, and tried to smuggle 263 long knives—three-inch, razor-sharp, steel blades that are strapped to the birds’ legs—in his luggage. He didn’t win the gold medal, but he did earn the honor of being the first person indicted under the new federal law barring interstate or foreign transport of cockfighting weapons.

At the time of the arrest, U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo said, “A cockfight…pits two fighting birds against each other in order for them to effectively duel to the death. We must act, and we will act whenever we find this type of illegal activity.” Now that’s a message worthy of being broadcast worldwide—that we have zero tolerance for staged animal fights, at home or abroad.

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