Mayor Attacks Animal Activists For Ignoring Mistreatment Of People

NORTH RANDALL, Ohio (AP) - Mayor Shelton Richardson says he has lost patience with white animal rights activists who are more concerned about the treatment of animals than the treatment of black people.

Richardson received a complaint from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals after he issued a statement welcoming the UniverSoul Circus to the Cleveland area for performances this week. PETA claims that UniverSoul has mistreated its animals.

According to PETA, Richardson told a caller that her complaints about UniverSoul, a black-owned circus with all black performers, were racist because she didn't complain about white-owned circuses such as Ringling Bros.

"When I find a person -- and especially a white person -- and they are going to talk to me about an animal and they are not going to talk to me about racial discrimination in this country, I have a huge problem with that," Richardson told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Richardson, who is black, said the UniverSoul circus teaches a good message to kids. Performers discuss the importance of staying in school and staying off drugs during the show.

North Randall is a predominantly black community of about 900 people.

"We need to prioritize what we are doing," Richardson said. "I don't want to do anything wrong or mistreat animals, but I think human beings ought to be way up on the list."

Richardson said he will not pursue PETA's concerns. "Until that same group can come to me and tell me that they are fighting for human rights, I don't want to hear it."

Kristie Phelps, a Norfolk, Va., based organizer of PETA's campaign on circus animals, said the group's mission only is to protect animals.

"UniverSoul has a great message for children," but the circus "shouldn't teach them to be cruel to animals," Phelps said.

She said circus animals spend long periods in confinement, are trained with painful techniques and "are deprived of everything that is natural to them."

Phelps said the group has challenged Ringling Bros. and other circuses on the same issue.

"The race issue is a distraction from the issue of animal cruelty," she said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)