Animal rights protester dangles for demands

Erin Ghere

Fire trucks, police cars and curious bystanders watched Thursday morning as a man attached to a giant banner dangled from Moos Tower in protest of animal testing.
In the end, University police arrested and charged the 21-year old man and 18-year-old Natalia Shulkin for trespassing and disorderly conduct. The 21-year-old devoted daredevil would not give his name, and asked reporters to call him “Kevin.” Neither the man or Shulkin are affiliated with the University.
Representing the organization Direct Action for Animals, the man attached himself to a 50-foot sign reading “Stop Primate Research at the U.”
Perched along a windowsill, the man requested to speak to University officials and had a prepared list of demands that had to be met before he would agree to come down.
The dangling protester and DAfA demanded an open dialogue with the University to address animal testing issues.
“I haven’t heard anything from the University yet,” he said from a cell phone after hanging for close to four hours. “I am not sure why they wouldn’t come talk to me.”
Frank Cerra, senior vice president for health sciences offered to talk to the swinging scofflaw but the protester refused. Cerra is second in command to University President Mark Yudof regarding Academic Health Center issues.
A University police officer negotiated with him the entire time, University Police Capt. Bruce Troupe said. The officers cut off his radio contact and confiscated his water supply before he was finally pulled in and arrested. Officers then removed the banner.
The man hung for more than five hours in the bitter cold outside the 17th floor of Moos Tower before University police officers pulled the protesting pendulum in through a window just after noon.
“When the opportunity presented itself, the officers snatched him,” Troupe said. It was suspected that he planned to hang there for many hours, as he also had granola bars with him, Troupe said.
Still in police custody at Hennepin County jail, “Kevin” is refusing to eat until his demands are met.
Shulkin was found on the roof of the building shortly before 8 a.m. Authorities are still not certain how the pair got on the roof.
Several other DAfA activists carrying graphic images of animal testing passed out leaflets on the street below. They dispersed peacefully after the man was arrested.
“We’ve tried the animal care people. We’ve spoken. No one is responding,” said Laurie Voeltz, member of the Student Organization for Animal Rights.
The demands were the same as those brought by six protesters on Tuesday, when they U-locked their heads together in primate researcher Marilyn Carroll’s office.
Carroll’s reaction to the protest was similar to her reaction to Tuesday’s primate protest at her Diehl Hall office.
“I respect people’s rights to have opinions and to protest but I don’t when it involves trespassing and disorderly conduct,” said Cynthia Gillett, director of Research Animal Resources on campus.
She said the biggest concern was that the man known as “Kevin” came down off of the building safely.
She added that care, oversight and guidelines are used in the University’s animal testing.
Although the man has previous climbing experience, he said he would have ended the protest if he felt his safety was in jeopardy.
“His goal was not a suicide,” said Julie Geldner, a DAfA activist. “Our goal was to draw public awareness,” she added. Geldner was one of the six protesters arrested Tuesday.
Bystanders had differing reactions.
“Part of me agrees, in spirit, but it is really dangerous for the people going up there to get him,” said Tracy Terbell, a Fairview Medical Center employee. “I don’t know if (the protesters) have really thought about that.”
One student walked by on her way to class and decided to join the protesters.
“At first I thought it was over-the-top, but then I decided to stay and help out,” said Stacey Dewitt, a junior studying psychology.
Several of the vivisection protesters cited the University’s psychology and psychiatry departments as “notorious for their cruelty and useless research.”