Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I'm on a Highway to Lipitor*

Sometimes I wonder if the internet is healthy for me.  Sure, I've learned much more information from online sources than I ever learned in school, but then I encounter such items as the ones following, and I'm certain my blood pressure doubles, which can't be healthy.

(*And yes, I know that Lipitor is for cholesterol and not blood pressure per se.  But I couldn't find any recognizable name brand blood pressure medicines that would work for my title.)

First, I watched this video today.

This must be some footage from an Iranian protest, right?  Or maybe it's file footage of Socialist Soviet abuse of it's citizenry?  Well, if not those, then it must be video of protesters or rioters from some foreign, third-world nation?

Actually, according to the Washington Post:
The FBI is investigating an incident last month in which three Prince George's County police officers in riot gear used their batons to beat an unarmed University of Maryland student after a basketball game -- an event captured on video and aired nationwide on Tuesday. 
The FBI probe is the third investigation by authorities into the beating and the criminal charges filed against John J. McKenna, 21, and Benjamin C. Donat, 19. Charging documents filed against the two students are contradicted by the video. Prosecutors have dropped assault charges against both.  
Are you freaking kidding me?  SERIOUSLY?  Assault charges were brought against the students?  Why, did they break one of the officer's batons with one of their skulls?  Did one student's face break one of the officer's hand?  Did one of the officers throw out his back while slamming his riot shield into the obviously dangerous and threatening student who happened to be skipping by?  And, yes, prior to being turned into a modern day Rodney King, that student was skipping down the sidewalk.  Oh, the horror.  Thank God the police were there the squelch the madness.

I've watched that video a handful of times, and I just couldn't help but imagine what an uproar there would be had a group of the students cornered one of those cops and put an equally punishing beating onto him.  It would be a national scandal of epic proportions. 


So, my blood has been boiling all day.  And then I read this article from the Boston Review in which Colin Dayan discusses "breed bans, euthanasia, and preemptive justice" with regard to dogs.

I've always been a philosophically opposed to breed bans for dogs and Mr. Dayan makes some great points in his article.
The seizures, detentions, and exterminations of pit bulls—sanctioned by laws in many states—expose the statutory logic for making preemptive justice constitutionally permissible: canine profiling supplies the terms for inclusion and ostracism, and even the suspension of due process rights. No criminal conviction of the owner is required for state seizure and destruction of property. In other words, the Constitution’s Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which prohibit the government from depriving anyone of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” can be suspended for the public good without evidence, without trial, by classification alone.
In legal rationales, realities are created. Old inequalities and radical discrimination are repackaged in unexpected forms. In breed-specific legislation, the taint and incapacity of the disenfranchised live on. At a time when our government is labeling certain persons as threats—alleged terrorists, enemy aliens, illegal immigrants, ordinary people who want to get on airplanes—we need to ask how the seizure and destruction of dogs deemed contraband becomes a medium for the intimidation and debasement of humans in turn. Who should suffer deprivation without redress so that we can live in reasonable—safe and secure—consensus? And who gets to decide?

Those are some mighty fine questions. 

And how did it get this way (at least, according to Mr. Dayan)?

Pit bulls were once known as “America’s Breed”: RCA’s “Nipper” (pictured head cocked while listening to “his master’s voice”); Buster Brown’s “Tige”; “Pete the Pup,” part of the Little Rascals gang in the Our Gang comedies; and the pit bull pictured on the celebrated World War I poster proclaiming: “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.” Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated dog in military history, fought for eighteen months in the trenches, saved several soldiers’ lives, and captured a German spy. Now the pit bull is the most demonized breed, the poster dog for dogfighting, the herald of criminality and drug-dealing, the mauler of children.
In 1987 Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, and Time Magazine all ran articles featuring pit bulls. Rolling Stone’s “A Boy and his Dog in Hell” reported on pit bulls used in street fights by gangs in North Philadelphia. Valued as proof of their owner’s mettle, the dogs were subjected to unimaginable torture and death if they lost. The cover of Sports Illustrated showed a snarling pit bull with the headline “Beware of This Dog” and branded these dogs with the locking-jaw myth and “a will to kill.” It was bested by Time’s “Time Bombs on Legs,” which compared the pit bull to “the vicious hound of the Baskervilles.” According to the Time article, the pit bull “has seized small children like rag dolls and mauled them to death in a frenzy of bloodletting.”
Since then the pit bull has been the media’s choice for horror stories about dogs labeled “four-legged guns” or “lethal weapons.” Citing pit bulls’ “vicious propensity,” hundreds of towns large and small throughout the United States have adopted the first ever breed-specific dog bans. Regulations vary from one city to the next, but once a ban has been enacted, any dog considered a threat to public welfare can be summarily seized and put down. This despite the fact that other breeds of dogs also bite, but we hardly ever read about them. “Dogs that bite people,” as Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out, “are vicious because they have owners who want a vicious dog.” That is, what predisposes a dog to bite is not its nature, but its environment. The most loyal dogs are the most abused. Ever ready to please, these dogs become victimized by those they love most. They are either the tools of human-initiated aggression or, as Karen Delise writes in The Pit Bull Placebo, the targets of “every type of positive or negative emotional and physical circumstance humans are capable of imposing on dogs.
 [Emphasis mine]

Which is one of my biggest pet peeves, so to speak, about breed-specific legislation, the fact that these laws rarely take into account the bigger problem than a dog's genes:  shitty owners.  Many of these dogs are raised to be vicious.  It just turns out that the pit bull is the dog of choice for these horrible people who train, torment, and torture the dogs into fighting machines. 

Mr. Dayan also walks through the legal history and case law with regard to dogs.  Are dogs property?  If so, what legal protections are they afforded?  Is a dog's breed the index for his disposition?  Or can we look past its looks and instead focus on its actions?  He notes that, "Nowadays, dangerous-dog hearings decide if dogs live or die. Vicious-dog law, or what some simply call “dog-bite law,” usually precludes any legal challenge—especially if the offending animal happens to be identified as dangerous simply because of the breed."

(NOTE: while I am in agreement with much of the author's thesis throughout the piece, I must take issue with his decision to close the piece with an analogy that includes the word "Nazi" as it is way too much slippery slope/straw man argumentation for my taste.  That final paragraph nearly destroys strength within the rest of the article, and for some people it may undercut it entirely.)

So, what's the point?  I guess I don't like it when police brutalize the citizens they are entrusted to "serve and protect".  I also don't like it when legislative bodies enact laws breed-specific dog laws that make judgments about "big schweeties" based upon their genes and not their behavior.  And now you know where I sit on these two extremely specific issues.

1 comment:

  1. I got you man; no worries!