Sunday, August 14, 2005

RICHMOND — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — known as much for staging shocking protests as for championing animal rights — is reconsidering a campaign comparing slavery to animal abuse after complaints from civil rights groups and others.

“Animal Liberation,” which includes 12 panels juxtaposing pictures of black people in chains with shackled elephants and other provocative images, had visited 17 cities before the Norfolk-based group put the tour on hold. The decision came within the past week.

PETA wrapped up the first leg of the tour in the District on Thursday.

“We’re not continuing right now while we evaluate,” said Dawn Carr, a PETA spokeswoman. “We’re reviewing feedback we’ve received — most of it overwhelmingly positive and some of it quite negative.”

Stops had included Columbia, S.C.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Baton Rouge, La. — cities in the heart of Dixie where, ironically, Miss Carr said the images were most well-received.

Suspended from a metal trellis, one cloth panel shows a black civil rights protester being beaten at a lunch counter beside a photo of a seal being bludgeoned. Another panel, titled “Hanging,” shows a photo of a white mob surrounding two lynched blacks, their bodies hanging from tree limbs; a nearby picture shows a cow hanging in a slaughterhouse.

But controversy erupted last Monday, when the display stopped in New Haven, Conn.

“There was one man who began shouting that the exhibit was racist,” Miss Carr said. “Then, there was a lot of shouting.”

Miss Carr said officials are using the shocking images to prove a point: Whether it’s humans harming animals or one another, all point to an oppressive mind-set.

But officials with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People aren’t buying it.

“PETA operates by getting publicity any way they can,” said John White, an NAACP spokesman. “They’re comparing chickens to black people?”

It marks the second time in recent months that PETA has come under fire for comparing the suffering of a group of people to the plight of animals.

Officials with the group apologized earlier this year after a campaign comparing the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust with that of factory animals.

That campaign ran from February 2003 to October 2004.

“These people seem to be in the very-slow-learners category,” said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project with the Southern Poverty Law Center, in Montgomery, Ala., where the exhibit stopped in July.

“Black people in America have had quite enough of being compared to animals without PETA joining in,” Mr. Potok said. “This is disgusting.”

And likely ineffective, said Paul Farris, a marketing professor at the University of Virginia. He pointed to anti-smoking campaigns that often rely on frank pictures of nicotine-blackened lungs.

After a while, he said, smokers just don’t pay attention.

“If it’s going to be so shocking and so disrupting, then they just turn it off,” he said.

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