By Emma Letessier
Erin Dart, 29, a nurse, and Jonathan DiNapoli, 33, a teacher, were arrested on the morning of 1st December 2015 for allegedly interfering with a state-sanctioned deer culling exercise in the Blue Hills Reservation in Boston, U.S.
According to a spokesman for the Norfolk District Attorney, Dart and DiNapoli’s intent was to disturb and disrupt the hunting activity; however, while the majority of the mainstream media failed to seek out the full story, Erin and Jonathan’s version of events differs greatly to that of the people that orchestrated their arrest and the subsequent trauma they faced as a result of being falsely accused of wrongdoing.
In an online account of the experience written by Jonathan DiNapoli, he claims that what was initially planned as an innocent walk in the woods near his home before going to work (something he has done on average three times a week over the past 15 years) turned into a three-week living nightmare, where they not only faced the threat of receiving a criminal record but were also subjected to harassment and abuse from pro-hunting supporters.
In DiNapoli’s writing, he admits that he and Dart were aware of the cull that was being carried out and had even publicly opposed it when given the chance. However, they were resigned to the fact that the cull was going ahead and as nature and animal lovers they wanted to simply go into the woods to pay their respects to the deer that had already been killed and to enjoy the woods before going to work.
“We are artists, we don’t spend 10 to 20 hours a day making art to make money or achieve fame. We do it with the sole intention of healing this planet by spreading our visions of beauty and sharing our positive messages of peace. We pride ourselves on our pacifism and firmly believe that the pen is mightier than the sword,” says DiNapoli.
“When we go out in nature, we step out of the concrete material world and enter a world of magic, miracles and living art. We get a thrill out of simply observing a living creature participating in its daily routines of life in the woods, and we are constantly on the lookout for new forms of plant, flower, fungus, rock, patterns that we find beautiful and inspiring for our artwork”.
Before entering the woods on the day of their arrest, DiNapoli and Dart asked for permission from two separate Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) employees that were stationed in front of the paths that lead to the trails. They were even given high-visibility vests and hats from one of the wardens, who radioed to the hunters and alerted them to the presence of the two unarmed walkers. At no point were they warned that they risked possible arrest and imprisonment if they entered the woods nor that hikers were forbidden from entering.
After walking for approximately 25 minutes, the couple heard a gunshot close by and DiNapoli reports that he said out loud, “Hunter, hunter” in an attempt to make known their presence and not be mistaken for deer. At that point they decided to start making their way back in order to get ready for work, when in the distance they spotted a man wearing a high-visibility vest who was staring at them. He did not appear to have a gun but was looking at them through binoculars.
As the man was a fair distance away, the couple took their camera out and zoomed in on the man to see what was happening and at that point he called someone on his mobile phone. Minutes later two men arrived and told them it was time for them to leave and escorted them all the way to entrance of the woods where they were met by Park Ranger officers, Environmental Police, State Police, local Police, DCR employees, Department of Fish and Wildlife employees and a local news reporter and cameraman.
They were told they were being held on an account of ‘Hunter Harassment’, after which they were handcuffed and read their rights before being transported to the local police station where they had their possessions (including their cameras) seized as evidence, their fingerprints and mugshots taken and were placed into a cell to await a court appointment.
Once in court, DiNapoli and Dart pleaded ‘Not Guilty’ to the charges and were released, with an appointment to attend a hearing in a couple of weeks’ time. The story of their arrest was covered by media outlets across the US, with media bias favouring the hunters. Not only were DiNapoli and Dart portrayed as animal rights extremists, their names and addresses were also published which made them vulnerable to threats and harassment from pro-hunting supporters. Three days before they were due in court, two FBI agents visited Dart’s house, leaving their card and saying they wanted to speak to her.
Thankfully, two local lawyers who were sympathetic to their case contacted the couple and offered to represent them in court for free. During their court appearance on the 17th December, two of the charges of ‘Disorderly Conduct’ and ‘Going off the Trail’ were dismissed and the charge of ‘Hunter Harassment’ was changed to ‘Hunter Interference’ and they were given a $50 fine and their criminal record remained clean.
It seems that what should have been nothing more than a warning and order to not re-enter the woods during the duration of the cull, was capitalised on and turned into an opportunity for DiNapoli and Dart to be made an example of for other animal rights supporters, despite the couple not actually doing anything other than walking in the woods.
Could the over-reaction and heavy-handed tactics employed by US government officials have anything to do with the fact that in the past the FBI has singled out the animal rights and environmental movements as its top target and called anyone that protests for these causes “the number one domestic terrorism threat”?
As artists, DiNapoli and Dart coped with this experience in the only way they knew how, each throwing themselves into their work and creating something beautiful and poignant to transform the negativity of the situation in their usual peaceful and compassionate way. DiNapoli’s work is entitled ‘Who Do You Value More?’ and aims to stand up against injustice while demonstrating that life and allowing others to live it in peace is the most important thing.
“We have been falsely arrested, grossly misrepresented, undeservingly judged and punished for 21 days because of charges that ended up resulting in us being fined $50, no more serious than a parking ticket,” says DiNapoli. “We both have hunters within our immediate families and circle of friends, and although we may differ greatly on our opinions on the value of life, our bond is love, and it is and forever will be eternal and untarnished. We have no hate”.
Dart’s piece is still a work in progress but portrays an image of a deer that she saw in the woods last year with a circle of other animals protecting him.
To read Jonathan DiNapoli’s full account of what happened visit: http://www.artofdino.com/Deer.html
To see more of Jonathan and Erin’s beautiful vegan artwork please visit their websites:
Jonathan DiNapoli: http://www.artofdino.com/ART.html
Erin Dart: http://www.erinshelbybun.com/ErinShelbyBun.html
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