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NYCLASS and PETA Demand Apology After Re-Releasing 2009 Video of Carriage Driver Calling Protester a Whore

A still from the video.
A still from the video.

The two most prominent animal rights groups pushing for a ban on horse-drawn carriages in New York City are holding a press conference today, calling for an apology from a carriage driver who they say hurled "racist, sexist hate speech in Spanish at a Latina who merely expressed concern for his horse." According to a release, New York City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez will join members of NYCLASS and PETA, the animal rights groups, on the steps of City Hall today at 1 p.m., asking the City Council to "demand a public apology from the carriage industry."

Their press release doesn't mention, however, that the incident they're referring to, between the carriage driver, who NYCLASS and PETA identify as Frank Rodden, and an anti-carriage protester named Claudia Rose Emerson, took place in 2009. The 45-second clip released by PETA earlier this week is part of a five-minute video released in 2009 by a group called Heart for Animal Rights.

The press release, issued by the public relations firm Goldin Solutions, which has been retained by NYCLASS, positions the incident as having occurred more recently, writing, "This is the second high-profile case of hate speech by carriage drivers. In 2012, Speaker Christine Quinn rebuked the horse carriage industry after a driver was caught on video spewing anti-gay and racist slurs." Despite the wording of the release, Goldin Solutions maintains that it was not attempting to characterize the 2009 incident as having taken place recently.

"The Village Voice's inaccurate and irresponsible inference is not at all the implication of what we sent," John Eddy, a company spokesman, wrote in an e-mail to the Voice. The entire press release can be read here.

It also includes a copy of a letter sent earlier this week to City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the council's Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, asking "that the City Council take action against Rodden's hateful speech by demanding a public apology from the carriage industry."

In the 45-second video released by PETA, the man identified as Rodden calls Emerson a whore in Spanish ("puta") and tells her to "return to your country and give food to the children in the streets, please." Later, in English, he asks if she's married with children or "barren," adding, "Are you barren? Childless? Lonely?" Referring to another protester standing nearby, he adds, "This one might have six or seven kids. What can I tell you?" Rodden, 51, is one of several carriage drivers who co-own the Clinton Park Stables, the city's largest stable.

Here's that video:

(The subtitles provided by PETA are accurate.)

Heart for Animal Rights has disabled embedding on the five-minute video, but you can watch it here. There's no question it's the same incident.

When the Voice asked NYCLASS spokesperson Allie Feldman when the video was shot, she confirmed that it is from 2009.

So why ask for an apology now, five years later?

"After years of Frank Rodden hurling racist, sexist comments, Claudia didn't want to publicly identify herself till now," Feldman replied. "When Frank, who co-owns the most prominent carriage stable, started publicly portraying himself as an ambassador for the industry, posing with Liam Neeson and claiming he's a blue collar family man."

A spokesperson for the carriage industry, Christina Hansen, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Voice. In the past, however, she has said that other anti-carriage videos released by PETA contain "old, tired, and false material."

Update, 3 p.m.: Edita Birnkrant, the director of another animal rights group, Friends of Animals, writes to say that the carriage drivers have a pattern of bad behavior. She disputes that the age of the videos is an issue. "I think the date of these events are irrelevant because we're showing a pattern of fairly recent, consistent behavior and incidents in which this constant disrespectful, abusive behavior was captured on camera," she says.

More from Birnkrant on the following page, as well as statements from carriage industry spokersperson Christina Hansen and the Teamsters union, which represents many of the drivers.

 

Birnkrant and Feldman from NYCLASS both allege that Rodden has been involved in several altercations with anti-carriage activists. Both of them shared this video from 2008:

"What he's doing under NYC law would be called 'menacing' and is a misdemeanor," Birnkrant says. "He should have been reported to the police for this behavior. He apparently was trying to grab their camera as well." She adds:

I've been verbally harassed and threatened by Frank Rodden and several other drivers on many occasions, and I've had them hurl degrading, sexist remarks at myself and others. On one occasion I even had to physically get between him and another female activist who he appeared ready to strike. He also tried grabbing my camera out of my hand and smacked it. There are literally so many incidents that I can't even list them all. Homophobic slurs are also common. I think the date of these events are irrelevant because we're showing a pattern of fairly recent, consistent behavior and incidents in which this constant disrespectful, abusive behavior was captured on camera. There are two separate videos of a different driver pulling his pants down to "moon" activists in a moving carriage with passengers, including a young child, in the carriage. This same driver is shown in another video repeatedly blowing a very loud whistle right next to a different drivers horse to taunt activists, all while he illegally left his own horse and carriage untended quite a distance away. Both horses could have spooked as a result and had his own horse, who he left untended, done so, there could have been a serious accident.

Christina Hansen, who is both a carriage driver and a frequent spokesperson for the industry, tells the Voice that the carriage drivers are frequently subjected to sexist and racial slurs from anti-carriage horse activists. She also had this to say about Rodden's language in the video:

To provide some context, this video was shot in 2009, and yes, it does show Frank Rodden. His wife at the time was pregnant with their first child and the activists knew that. Activists, such as Roxanne Delgado (who physically assaulted carriage driver Jesus Rojas in 2012 and had him deported when he pressed charges, with the help of NYCLASS volunteer Claudia Cinardo), had said nasty things to Frank and his wife both in person and online about how they hoped that their baby was born dead or deformed.

Frank's outburst (in Spanish, because he has lived in Honduras) was prompted by the activists calling him a drunken Irishman and saying that he should be forbidden from procreating because he was probably a wife beater in their estimation, because he was a carriage driver. The video, of course, has been edited to eliminate the verbal abuse the driver was subjected to prior to his statement here. (The same was true of the video referenced in the letter - that driver did apologize for his comments and use of language. The NYCLASS volunteers did not apologize for calling him several Irish slurs, such as "bog trotter" and the like, before he responded in kind.) This is not to excuse these drivers' words, but to contextualize them as part of a larger pattern of bullying and harassment by the animal rights activists that carriage drivers have had to endure for years...

This incident is indicative of NYCLASS's desperate attempts to throw everything at the wall and hope that something sticks, because on the merits of the argument about horses and their welfare in the city, they have nothing. All they can do is attempt to dehumanize the carriage drivers.

The Teamsters Joint Council 16, the union which represents many of the carriage drivers, also sent us a statement from their president George Miranda:

"The Teamsters will never accept statements that demean anyone because of their race, gender, ethnicity or orientation. The remarks in the four-year-old video circulated by NYCLASS today are unacceptable.

As a Puerto Rican American, I know the impact that racism has and fight it by addressing inequality in the industries we represent and educating our members. This is why the Teamsters are leaders in the fight for the DREAM Act, for municipal IDs for undocumented workers, for immigration reform, for an end to pay discrimination, and for equality for our LGBTQ neighbors.

Let me be clear. The Teamsters will not accept double standards either. We call upon anti-carriage-horse activists to apologize for targeting our members while they are at work with racist remarks, such as calling our members 'illegals'. We believe we are one New York, where all people are equal and should be treated with respect.

Meanwhile, a Facebook event page for the press conference has devolved in a massive pro- versus anti-carriage battle. The Teamsters and Hansen tell us that City Council Member Rosie Mendez, who was supposed to speak at the event, left without speaking when she found out how old the video was. We have a call in to Mendez's office to confirm that.


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