Why Focus on Puppycide?
An Andrew Sullivan reader, writing in response to coverage of the most recent well-publicized case of puppycide by the police, writes:
As a resident of Baltimore, I am disappointed that when you turn your attention to violent crime, including, or perhaps especially, perpetrated by police officers, it features the shooting of a dog. I believe that dogs should be treated with decency and dignity, but so should humans. What about the six year old girl who was hit by a police cruiser on Tuesday and remains in the hospital after police claimed that she had been released? How about the 40% of rape victims whose calls to 911 were dismissed by police officers and never referred to the sexual assault unit? Or the U.S. Marine shot to death by a police officer around the corner from my house? Most of the time the police department has acted on these problems only after often-preventable damage has been done. And this is not even to mention the horror of so many murders by and of young men from neighborhoods with no hope. While most of us would like to keep Baltimore looking good to potential tourists, sometimes the injustice of daily life for so many people here is too much to bear. And then we read about a dog being shot.
I’ve got no idea what it’s like to live in Baltimore or, really, in any other place where violent crime is a fact of life or where police abuse of power or apathy is an everyday occurence. I cannot possibly appreciate how the anger of white suburbanite slobs like me over puppycide must come across to someone who does live in such a situation.
That said, the reality is that most people don’t live in neighborhoods such as those described above; most people in the US live in neighborhoods where crime is a rarity, violent crime rarer still, where the worst behavior they see from the police is perhaps an overly discourteous traffic cop, and where the cops respond to emergencies as fast as their cars, feet, or bikes can get there. The sadder reality is that those who do live in such neighborhoods as those described by Sullivan’s reader rarely possess the kind of political power necessary to draw meaningful attention to the horrors descrbed.
So on the rare occasion when a story of police abuse against an actual human being actually does filter its way through the media, those with the actual political power necessary to do something about the situation view it through the lens of someone who lives in a neighborhood where the cops are an integral part of the community, act on every important call (and even plenty of unimportant calls), and almost never actually hurt somebody unless they’re really, really bad. A story of police abuse is thus unlikely to stir up a lot of anger or emotion for real, systemic chane; at best, this middle class and upper middle class majority might conclude that the abuse is an outlier, the result of one or two bad seeds. As likely, though, this majority will tend to conclude that, at a minimum, the victim must have been doing something wrong; besides, that’s a high crime area, don’tchaknow, filled with terrible people and thugs.
In short, when a story of urban violence or police brutality or police apathy actually does filter its way to the politically capable majority, the story first requires that the victim be proven completely innocent and the police completely guilty (ie, what they did was no accident) before we can even begin discussing whether there is a systemic problem or a systemic solution. And even then, you’ve got to be able to point to an entire series of cases where the victim was completely innocent and the police completely guilty in order to show that this wasn’t just an isolated incident.
But stories about the shooting of dogs, sadly, overcome this. Where this average person may believe humans who live in high crime neighborhoods are capable of uniquely capable of evil or, at the very least, that cops are justifiably anxious and untrusting of such humans, this average person also likely knows that pets – and especially dogs – are always innocents, and that no decent human being could ever be so afraid of a dog as to try to kill it (well, unless it’s a “pit bull” of course, which is why cops have a bad habit of describing every dog as a pit bull when one of these incidents happen. The intentional killing of an indisputable innocent who could never be a threat to anyone like a poor, defenseless animal is so incomprehensible that it can, in this worldview, only be performed by a complete psychopath. When it is done coolly and professionally, or when the police chief tries to defend it as being merely a matter of procedure, even the most insulated suburbanite should be able to quickly understand that this is not the act of a lone bad seed, but instead the symptom of something much, much larger. Maybe this leads such a person to begin to think seriously about violent crime, police abuse, and the like.
It is indeed sick that the senseless killing of an animal is – to the average American – a more obvious symptom of a deep problem than the senseless killing of a human. But, unfortunately, that is the world in which we live.