We all thought that Oklahoma went out of the cockfighting business in 2002.
That was the year that 56% of state voters approved State Question 687, which banned cockfighting in the state. The measure made it a felony to host, encourage or assist cockfights or to keep or train birds for cockfighting. Attending a cockfight became a misdemeanor.
That same year, Congress passed a law banning the interstate transport of cocks for fighting. Subsequently, Congress has broadened the reach of federal law on the issue to include all U.S. territories, including Guam.
So, how is it that Animal Wellness Action and Animal Wellness Foundation found enough suspicious bird shipments from Oklahoma to Guam between November 2016 and September 2019 for the state to earn the title of cockfighting capital of the United States?
The records found more than 8,800 shipped animals describe as “brood fowl.” The groups say there is no legitimate explanation for this volume of shipments. Guam doesn’t have a domestic poultry business, and the ratio of shipped roosters to hens was nearly 10 to 1 with some shipments being over 100 to 1. The group claims cockfighting is a thriving business on the island.
Three of the top five bird shippers from the U.S. to Guam were from Oklahoma, the group reports.
Former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who defended SQ 687 in court, is working with Animal Wellness Action in the state.
Cockfighting is not only illegal, but is associated with illegal drugs and it damages the state’s reputation as a modern, progressive location for new businesses, he told the Tulsa World editorial board last week.
“There can be no pretense about this,” Edmondson said of what was reflected by records the groups obtained using the Freedom of Information Act. “It’s purely for cockfighting.”
The group has forwarded the information it gathered to the Muskogee-based U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, urging prosecution. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Muskogee did not offer any hints about what they were doing with the information they had received.
Animal Wellness Action also has referred information to state prosecutors in Cherokee, Haskell and LeFlore counties.
The group also has posted a standing $2,500 reward for anyone who provides critical information that results in a successful federal prosecution of an individual or set of individuals who violate the federal law against animal fighting.
To use an odd metaphor for a tropical Pacific island, Guam is only the tip of the iceberg for the state’s continuing involvement in the blood sport, according to Wayne Pacelle, founder of Animal Wellness Action.
Fighting birds are also going from Oklahoma to Vietnam, South America and Central America, he said.
Since SQ 687 passed, there have been enough prosecutions to make it clear that the barbaric practice is still around in Oklahoma. Earlier this year, investigators stumbled across the cockfighting ring east of Harrah and arrested two people.
Oklahoma was the last state to make cockfighting illegal, and it took an initiative petition, a highly charged political campaign that may have skewed the results of the governor’s race and an overwhelming vote of the people to do that.
Edmondson is right: Cockfighting is illegal and bad for Oklahoma’s reputation. The people of Oklahoma and Congress have made it clear that it isn’t acceptable, and the law needs to be enforced.
Prosecutors need to take the information they have been offered seriously and bring in whatever investigators they need to enforce the law aggressively.