Can I just say that if I hear someone say one more time “why is there such an outcry for animal cases when humans are hurt all the time and those cases don’t get the same outcry as animals” my head will explode? Because I am really just so sick of it, especially when it comes from folks who should know better, like police officers and prosecutors and even media commentators. Perhaps if they merely thought it through they’d see the answer, but allow me to express how I usually respond to such comments: I have enough compassion to empathize and be truly concerned about both kinds of cases—my compassion is not a finite amount, nor is it mutually exclusive in how it is expressed. How silly to suggest that folks like me would be any different! Perhaps it is the commentators themselves who are unable to care about or address more than one problem at a time.
My household includes both children and nonhuman animals, and I am deeply concerned about the world they live in now, and the one we’ll be leaving them. However, one doesn’t need to be a lawyer to recognize that our criminal and civil justice system was long ago set up to protect and accommodate human victims--even children and the mentally incompetent have innumerable laws and agencies and regulations protecting them, and they must have advocates appointed to represent their interests in court. We trust the courts will work to help them, as they’ve done for a long time, without any outcry needed.
But our courts are sorely lacking in even recognizing nonhuman animals, let alone protecting them or giving them any measure of justice. Changing that fact is my particular concern and passion, and that is what I spend my days working to improve, through better laws and educating those who work in the legal system. The fact I work for animals does not mean that I do not also hurt when I read about people who are hurt, or write letters or put my dollars toward those cases as well. My compassion cannot be compartmentalized.
In the meantime I and other like-minded folks understand that change for animals is still a long way off, and until it comes there will be a huge outcry when we see them harmed and those cases come to light, and I won’t apologize for it.
Now let’s go out there and make this a kinder, gentler world for all of the vulnerable creatures with whom we share it.
There has been no shortage of news and commentary about the Michael Vick case (including on ALDF’s website)! Nevertheless, here we go again. I’ll spare the rehash of the disgusting and depraved facts of the case. We’ve all heard them. And, while what Vick and his knuckle-dragging cohorts did was not only illegal but unimaginably heartless and cruel, I think the importance of this case must be measured in how we, the people, respond to it. Rarely is there such an opportunity to take the measure of the public’s outrage over cruelty to animals and its willingness to do something about it. So, to keep this brief, I’ll summarize some of what I learned:
1.) The public really, really cares about animals! This is the most heartening revelation to come from this case. I think everyone who cares about animals, from their family pet, to shelter dogs and cats, to farmed animals, felt the same surge of pride I did when this nation rose up en masse to express its outrage over Vick’s abuse of animals.
2.) There are way too many people who were not outraged at all, including some who should know better. Yeah, I’m talking about you, R.L. White, President of the Atlanta Chapter of the NAACP and you, Whoopi Goldberg, and you, too, Clinton Portis and Chris Samuels (aka Dumb and Dumber).
3.) The laws to punish the abuser and to protect the animals involved are not strong enough. The fact that Vick was able to dump his house in a big hurry while under investigation while the fate of the dogs hung in the balance due to uncertainty in forfeiture laws, points to some holes in the laws against dog fighting that must be fixed. And despite the public outrage over the cruelty involved in this case, Vick’s primary legal worries were due to the gambling involved.
4.) The public outrage over the Vick case raised some good questions about the state of our animal laws and commitment to anti-cruelty in general. One sports writer on ESPN, while seeming to defend Vick in some ways, did so by raising some difficult questions about the seeming schizophrenia of our animal protection laws. Are we, as a nation, opposed to animal cruelty or aren’t we?
Ever ready to make the most out of an opportunity to advance the laws protecting animals, ALDF is working on some exciting ways to add more teeth to the laws against animal fighting. Use the comment form below to tell us how you feel about this case or to share your ideas for stopping animal fighting.
And thank you for your support!
The post-plea, presentence phase of a criminal case can be a very interesting time. So it is with Michael Vick. For different reasons, Vick’s defense team, the NFL and the Falcons are all desperately trying to deflect and refocus the public’s attention. Vick’s defense team will continue to spin this as a “tragedy” for Vick’s family, for Vick’s teammates and for a “talented young man who is trying to rebuild his life after making a poor decision.” Classic: minimize the conduct and attempt to induce empathy for the defendant (oh, yeah, appeal to the religious right by invoking Vick’s newfound love of Jesus). This is the only hope Vick’s camp has of keeping him in the NFL. Serving a federal sentence is a second-tier concern—retaining access to a multimillion-dollar income is the top priority. Despite the disappointing decision of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to allow it as part of the plea agreement, why do you think Vick refused to admit to betting on his dogs? To improve his chances of staying affiliated with the league.
From the league and the team, the message seems to be, “We didn’t know Vick was a dogfighting thug… But, hey, it’s football season, so sit down, crack a cold one and watch the game!” The hope being that, just maybe, folks will stop talking about this situation.
Enter Whoopi Goldberg and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). Coming at it from very different perspectives, each has generated yet another news cycle for a story that has very impressive staying power. Ms. Goldberg seems to be of the “View” that since Vick is from the “deep south” where she says dogfighting is part of the “culture,” his conduct should be measured against that backdrop rather than against the cold and impersonal backdrop of the federal criminal code and those pesky laws Vick repeatedly and systemically violated for years. Ms. Goldberg’s logic is so painfully flawed that one can’t help but feel sorry for her. If Ms. Goldberg’s reasoning is accurate, then judges should consider a hate crime offender’s “cultural heritage” as a mitigating factor in sentencing. The Goldberg mitigation argument would go something like this: “Your Honor, my client is from the deep south and he was raised in an environment of racial intolerance. Therefore, in fashioning a sentence for burning a cross in Mr. Smith’s front yard, I urge you to be sensitive to his cultural heritage and judge his conduct in the context in which he was raised. Simply put, he was raised to think that way and [by inference] just didn’t know any better.” Labeling this logic as offensive and insulting is being way too generous. The federal sentencing guidelines do not subscribe to this ridiculous view and no judge worth his or her salt does either. Shame on you Whoopi. You should have stayed in that coveted center square and steered well clear of commenting on federal sentencing practices.
Next up, the AJC’s story proclaiming that Vick’s extended involvement as a dogfighter was an “open secret” known to many well before his arrest. And yet, in the wake of Vick’s guilty plea, the brass within both the Falcons and the NFL would have us believe that they knew nothing of this side to Vick’s character. Do you honestly believe that any for-profit enterprise (team or league) preparing to invest tens of millions of dollars in a marque player would conduct a less-than-thorough background investigation of their investment or neglect to take steps to protect that investment once it’s made? Perhaps even more telling is this gem about the Falcons’ management, as reported by the AJC story: “The degree to which the team monitored off-the-field activities of its highest-paid player is not clear. Reggie Roberts, a spokesman for the Falcons, declined to comment.” Why would the Falcons decline to comment on this and why would the Falcons be anything less than clear about what they knew and when they knew it? It’s almost as if they are taking plays right out of Alberto Gonzales’ playbook. This is all-too predictable and, yet, sadly disappointing at the same time.
The New York Times ran a story earlier this week about the recent popularity of creating “life lists”—to-do’s for the long haul. I’ve got various lists lying around on crumpled post-its and envelope backs, and for the most part they look alarmingly bourgeois (restaurants to eat at, countries to visit, dance steps to learn). Clearly I’ve been too offhand in my goal setting. Because there’s one thing I really want to do someday, more than tango in Buenos Aires, play craps in Monaco, or sport cruelty-free couture at some lavish premiere. What I really want is to have my own radio show.
I love the radio. I adore Howard Stern, and I have a mega-nerd-crush on Ira Glass. I feel like I know them, you know? Much more than newspapers and TV, the radio seems, somehow, intimate. Like these people, via their voices, are in my living room with me while I make my bed and dry my hair and go about my life. There still remains something that is beautifully candid and unscripted and manages to capture people in all their unedited glory (for better or worse) on the radio that is long gone from television, if it ever existed there at all.
While I work on the concept for my show (wacky guests? people I just happen to find interesting? regular airtime for people who bring vegan baked goods to my studio?), I invite you to get to know some of our staff here at ALDF—on the radio:
-On May 15, KPCC 89.3 in Pasadena spent a quarter hour talking with Founding Director Joyce Tischler about ALDF’s plea to the LA Dodgers to stop selling their stadium’s iconic Dodger Dog until supplier Farmer John stops contracting with farms raising pigs in cruel gestation stalls.
Here’s what she had to say. (RealPlayer required.)
-Bruce Wagman, ALDF’s chief outside litigation counsel, joined San Francisco’s KQED on July 23 to discuss legal and social issues relating to animal fighting and other ways in which animals are abused for “entertainment.”
Tune in now.
-Just last week, on the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, ALDF’s Chief Contract Attorney Dana Campbell joined Los Angeles radio station KPFK for their show “Rescue Me,” looking at the legal issues affecting evacuation of animals in disasters, and the challenges that remain.
Listen to her interview.
Dear Mr. White,
I have long admired the NAACP as an organization that fights for those who are the victims of oppression and discrimination. As a teen growing up in the tumultuous 1960s, I looked to the NAACP as a beacon of hope in a world filled with prejudice, violence and injustice. Animal Legal Defense Fund, the organization I founded, is built on the principles that Dr. King spoke of so eloquently when he envisioned “all of God’s children” joining hands in freedom. Those of us who work to protect animals realize that there will never be a “final frontier” of those who desperately need our compassion. In the ongoing effort to create a world that respects all of its members, those of us who work for defenseless animals are working at the roots.
To witness your representing the NAACP and defending Michael Vick is a betrayal of the trust that so many of us have placed in your organization. Perhaps naively, I’ve believed that people who have experienced oppression would learn from that to oppose the oppression of all others, not just those in their racial or ethnic group.
But, your active embrace of Vick appears to be a classic case of the good old boys circling the wagons to protect one of their own, regardless of what he has done. You stated that Michael Vick is being persecuted and treated worse than if he had killed a human. In other words, you are saying that since Vick was involved merely in dogfighting, what is all the fuss about? Since you don’t seem to know the answer, let me explain: dogfighting is a barbaric practice that has no place in a civilized society. It involves forcing animals to violently inflict bodily injury upon each other until one of the two fighters dies. The training of the dogs is brutal. In addition to the harm to the animals, which didn’t seem to faze you, there is also the gambling and rampant sale and use of drugs. Investigators report that children are often brought to these events. Because of the violence, the drugs and the gambling that are all endemic to dogfighting, it is a crime in all 50 states, a felony in 48 states and a violation of federal law.
Michael Vick is not some uneducated, unemployed adult who cannot afford an attorney and was pressured into signing a false confession. He attended college at Virginia Tech, and has become one of the highest paid sports players in history, with a $130 million dollar contract. He’s an intelligent man who has made choices, all along the way. He made the choice to be heavily involved with dogfighting, to cruelly abuse, torture and kill dogs, and to become involved in gambling, another crime. Each and every time he participated in a dog fight, he made the choice to violate state and federal laws. That he now faces difficult and uncomfortable choices, such as whether or not to plead guilty, is the price he must pay. For the NAACP to call that persecution, because Vick happens to be African American, is nothing short of a bald, two-faced lie.
Further, you stated that just because Vick pleads guilty doesn’t mean he committed the crime. To the contrary, sir; if he pleads “guilty,” that is exactly what it means. He will have to sign a written statement, in open court, that he committed the acts constituting the crime. A judge will have to make a factual finding that Vick understands that he is admitting his guilt and that Vick’s admitted conduct constitutes an actual violation of the charged crime.
A lesson that I learned in the 60s, and that I apply to our work every day, is that our worst enemy is the mindset that we can use, exploit and abuse others, because they are unlike us, less than us. As soon as we separate ourselves from “them,” whoever “they” are, we can justify doing wretched, horrible things to others. The examples abound: the KKK lynchings, the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, the current human rights crisis in Darfur…
For me, that lesson applies not only to humans, but to all who have the capacity to suffer: the dog who is set on fire by a gang of teenagers, the pig confined for life in a crate so small that all she can do is stand or lie down, the deer, racing for her life from the barrel of a high powered rifle. The best in humankind, the very best, comes out when we see ourselves in others and others in ourselves. Thou in me. I look into the eyes of a dog, or a chimpanzee, or a child in a displaced persons camp in Darfur and I see some one—an individual, with a life force and an intelligence—looking back at me.
Those of us who have lived with or spent time around pit bulls, can attest to the fact that, when they are in a loving home, they are delightful, playful, charming dogs. They like to go on walks, run in their back yards and do all the things that other dogs enjoy doing. They are faithful and devoted companions. They would never choose the kind of painful, ugly existence that Michael Vick and other dogfighters force them into.
It is disheartening to me that you and other NAACP officials urge us to offer Michael Vick our compassion, but the nameless, faceless dogs he abused and killed simply don’t matter; the suffering that he inflicted upon them is unimportant. I’d like to offer you the second chance that you ask me to offer Michael Vick. Look into the eyes of those dogs, battered and scarred through years of brutality, and tell me what you see.
Wishing you peace and perhaps, a deeper insight,
Animal Legal Defense Fund