Excessive Force

4 Comments

This morning, I was chatting with a neighbor and somehow the conversation turned to the time a police officer shot and killed a dog on our street a few years ago. As the conversation progressed, I found myself feeling agitated because even though she noted that she would “never forget the sound of the dog crying,” she defended the officer and blamed the dog’s guardians for the outcome. On the other hand, I told her that it was absolutely unnecessary and that the officer should never have pulled his pistol. And here’s the thing: I saw it happen. I know it didn’t have to be.

Here’s what I wrote the day it happened, just over two years ago:

Yesterday morning, when I was out walking the dog, we walked by a group of three dogs that were off leash, a Rottweiler, a black lab mix, and a smaller dog that I couldn’t identify.  I was a little curious, but they seemed to be sticking around one particular house, so I figured their guardian had just let them out.  They weren’t aggressive and didn’t even come over to sniff.

Last night, we were out again and we saw the dogs again, this time in the yard of a house on the opposite corner from ours.  They were running about, including out into the road, so obviously something was up.  I had my cell with me and called animal control (who I have stored in the phone because the need to call seems to come up every few months).  They were closed and their message seemed to indicate that if the dogs didn’t appear sick or dangerous, there wasn’t much else to do.

After we got back from our walk, I went across the road into another neighborhood where I remember seeing a sign about a lost black lab mix.  I called, but that family had already been reunited with their dog and just hadn’t removed the signs.

When I got back home, the pack was nowhere to be seen.  I went back inside, frustrated, and figured I’d call the next morning if I saw them again.

This morning, I ran an errand, talked to a neighbor about the dogs and thought about it all a bit more.  Something weird was going on.  Last night, they were hanging out in the front yard of the house near ours.  I saw them run towards a man walking past and bark at him, which seemed to shake him up a little, but they didn’t attack him.  It just seemed like they were defending their territory.  I think that these three dogs live in that house, which was just recently moved into by the new owners.  Usually there were some dogs in the backyard, but I hadn’t heard them bark recently.  Plus, the house’s front lawn was getting to be very overgrown.  It’s like they hadn’t been there in quite a while.  Had they left the dogs to fend for themselves?  Did they leave overnight and just forget to lock the gate?  It wasn’t clear.

When I got back from my errand, a cop car pulled up to the house.  The officer got out of the car, walked into the front yard towards the three dogs who were laying there.  They got up and came at him, barking like the did at the man the night before.  The cop got freaked out.  He reached in his holster, pulled out his pistol, and then POP.

The dogs (two of them or possible all three, I’m not sure) scurried around the house.  I could hear a loud, painful crying and whimpering that ended a minute or so later.  The cop stood in the front yard, looking a bit stunned, and then called in backup.

A kid across the street saw it happen and yelled out to a friend down the street, “I think a cop just popped a cap in that dog!”  I watched the whole thing unfold from my front porch, not being able to shake that sound of the dog crying.

A few minutes later, more police and animal control showed up.  The woman from animal control carried the limp body of what looked like the black lab to her van.  I didn’t see the other two dogs.

I held out a small bit of hope that maybe, just maybe, that wasn’t a pistol he had pulled.  Maybe it was a tranquilizer.  But as I left for work a few minutes later, I saw the cops in the overgrown front yard with a metal detector, trying to find the shell casing.

I’m really angry by the way things went down.  First of all, how come animal control isn’t on call after 5pm?  If they had been able to help when I called the night before, this wouldn’t have happened.  Secondly, where the heck are the owners of that house?  Why would a brand new family leave a yard to get completely overgrown and leave behind their three dogs?  Lastly, and most frustratingly, why did the cop shoot the dog?  It was absolutely unnecessary.  Of course they got up and barked at him, he approached them, infringing on their territory.  Why didn’t he just call over to them from a safe distance?  Or call in for backup?  It was three dogs he was dealing with, what made him think he could deal with it on his own, even if they were completely docile?  Should an officer that’s that skittish around dogs really be the one to go on that type of call?

I’m going to talk to another neighbor that I saw talking with the cops and try to find out the full story.  If everything turned out the way it appeared to, I’ll be writing a letter to the police department about the way it went down.

I keep replaying the situation in my head.  There’s no reason it had happen like that.

Later that day, I wrote this:

I talked to my neighbor tonight and she filled me in, letting me know that yes, indeed, the lab was killed by the bullet. In addition, the bullet went through the lab (the oldest of the three) and grazed the smallest dog. Thankfully, the small dog is back at home, recovering, after a visit to the emergency room. It may have been the small dog that I heard wimpering, but I don’t think so.

Apparently the dogs have been digging holes under the fence and have gotten out frequently over the last few weeks. Animal control’s been there a number of times. Everytime the family there fills the holes, the dogs dig them back out again.

After I talked with my neighbor and got some more information, I went over and talked to the man himself, who was out in front of his house. He told me that the police seargent told him that the two large dogs “lunged” at the officer and that the officer didn’t even have time to get the gun fully aimed after he pulled it out of the holster.

As a recap:

  • From my vantage point, the officer made no attempt to call to the dogs. He walked directly at them, on their property.
  • Though the dogs did get up and come at him (and may have been barking, I can’t remember), I saw no evidence that they were lunging. What I saw was the officer back up, get nervous, pull his gun, point, and shoot.
  • Even if they did come at him agressively, he was approaching them on their property; shouldn’t he have been prepared to use non-lethal force, like his baton or mace? Aren’t police trained in this?

I’m also still confused why one cop was sent to handle three dogs and why he didn’t just wait for animal control to arrive since these dogs were doing nothing but laying in their own front yard.

This was the first time I’ve met this particular neighbor. While I’m downright angry at the way the situation went down, he seemed more stunned and saddened, just trying to make sense of it all. He told me about going to see his dog one last time and get his collar. He said he noticed that the bullet went in the dog’s side, near his rear leg, which seemed like a strange place if the dog was indeed lunging. He showed me the bloodstains on the ground and the spray paint marking where the bullet casing was found (the cops didn’t find it with their metal detector, he found it).

I gave him my name and number and let him know I’d be happy to help if he was going to file a complaint or press charges.

As I was walking Amina tonight and I thought about the pain this guy must be feeling at the loss of his friend, I thought that maybe there was a reason I locked myself out of my house today. Though nothing will bring his dog back, I hope he can get some sort of resolution to this.

Something I didn’t mention in the update is that when I was talking with the man in his front yard, I had Amina with me. As we were talking, I looked down and her tail was between her legs and she was shaking, something that doesn’t happen unless something’s spooked her. It was clear she could sense something bad had happened there — maybe she could smell the other dog’s blood on the ground — and she didn’t want to stick around.

The days following the shooting were very tense and stressful. I talked to a reporter from the local paper and spoke out (anonymously) about what happened. The feedback on the paper’s site was half “I can’t believe the cop did that!” the other half cheering the cop on and saying that I was full of crap despite the fact I witnessed it. A number of times, I looked out my front door and saw a cop car parked there, the officer staring at my house and taking notes. I spoke with an animal control officer, who was conducting an investigation for his office.

Eventually, the policeman who I saw outside my house on numerous occasions came to the door. I stepped out onto the porch and spoke with him. He was in charge of the police’s internal investigation and wanted to get my side of the story. I told him everything, as I did the newspaper and the animal control officer. The cop spent a lot of the time defending his fellow officer, almost like he was trying to convince me the shooting was justified. He showed me how much more difficult it is to pull the mace from a holster compared to the gun. He was friendly about it all and didn’t come off as intimidating, but I still came away from the conversation feeling pessimistic about how things would turn out.

Weeks passed, and nothing. No news in the paper, no calls from police or animal control. The neighbor decided not to press charges after he found out the most he’d be able to get out of it was $80 for the “value” of his dog and possibly reimbursement for cleaning blood off of his carpet. I eventually found out from speaking with another neighbor that the police had completed their internal investigation and found the officer was in the right. No action would be taken against the officer.

Big surprise.

Even though this happened over two years ago, the event still weighs on my mind. I’ve found myself scowling as police drive by and haven’t called animal control since then (rather, I’ve done a few catch-and-returns on my own). When I see an officer, I think to myself, “Is that the guy that shot the dog? Is he the one who fired a pistol with a kid only 20 feet away?” And I’ve lost a lot of faith in neighbors who feel that shooting a dog point blank is justified just because he’d escaped his yard and had been wandering the neighborhood.

I understand that police work is dangerous and I know that an aggressive dog, just like an aggressive human, may need to be subdued. But I sincerely hope that officers are receiving better training about how to deal with groups of animals (don’t try to handle them alone, don’t approach them on their property, use non-lethal force, etc.). Sadly, I suspect this is not the case.

Guest Post: The Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale

1 Comment

(This is a guest post by the always charming Gary Loewenthal of Animal Writings and Compassion for Animals. He’s heading up the first Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale, which you’ve hopefully heard about by now. I asked Gary to write a guest post to talk a little bit about the bake sale, which has gathered an awful lot of steam since he first told me about the project a few months ago. It’s a great example of what one person with one good idea can do.)

It’s my honor and privilege to be taking up valuable bandwidth on the premier animal rights and vegan blog of the Internet. Many thanks to Ryan. (ed. note: No neet to butter me up, Gary, you’ve already got the guest post spot. :) )

My life lately has been gradually consumed by the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale (WVBS), culminating next week, so hopefully I’ve learned a few lessons and have some impressions that may be of interest to a few readers or more.

In a nutshell… The WVBS concept is simple: Groups (or individuals) around the world hold vegan bake sales around the same time – June 20-28, to be exact. It’s not a strict requirement that participants have to have a bake sale during that time period, but having a bunch of vegan bake sales across the globe in the same week makes it feel more like a festive, impactful event.

The idea is very unoriginal. It’s based on similar projects such as the Great American Bake Sale. The main difference – besides being vegan – is that participants can do whatever they want with the proceeds. That’s turned out to be a great feature, but the original reason for that decentralization was to make the project easier to organize. Speaking of which, the coordinator of the event as a whole is Compassion for Animals, a small DC-area grassroots animal group that a few of us started last fall. (The website will be finished as soon as I get a break from the WVBS!)

I randomly hoped for 30 bake sales the first year. Right now we have 75. Participants include an LA City Councilmember’s office, a preschool, a radical left sci-fi convention, vegan businesses, vegan food bloggers, local veg*an groups, internationally known animal protection organizations such as Farm Sanctuary and Compassion Over Killing, and ad hoc collaborations of friends. Proceeds are going to a river cleanup effort, an anti-discrimination program, a children’s shelter, a free mobile spay/neuter service, humane societies, farmed animal sanctuaries, Food not Bombs, Food For Life, and animal-related groups ranging from the Sea shepherd Conservation Society to Vegan Outreach – and many more places. One bake sale is a fundraiser for a sanctuary employee who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Lessons I’ve learned (or am learning) – which may be old hat to anyone who’s organized anything, or may just be common sense, but I’ll put them out there in case they’re useful to others who are thinking of embarking on an activism project:

“You can do it.” I’m not a great baker and I have almost no experience at bake sales or putting together events, yet I’m heading up a global vegan bake sale. I forget who said that the secret to writing a book is to start writing, but I think it’s the same thing with big projects: Just start doing the first steps, then the second steps, and so forth. Don’t worry that you’re not an expert or that you make mistakes along the way – we’ve made a ton. You learn from your mistakes and gather knowledge along the way.

If the project seems too big, scale it back. As mentioned before, we made the WVBS participation rules short and simple partly to save time on our end. You also might also be able to enlist help. I feel like I cashed in all my chips on this endeavor, but hopefully that’s ok – if we all help each other, it should come out even in the long run.

Prepare for success. The WVBS isn’t a household name, and it’s nowhere near the scale of, say, Meatout (shout-out to FARM, BTW, for their promotions of the WVBS), but compared to my low expectations, it’s a huge success – and the workload has expanded accordingly. In hindsight, I should have asked myself, “What kind of infrastructure and time commitment will we need if we get a lot more respondents than we’re expecting?”

Cupcake activism is powerful! I was slow to realize the power of introducing skeptics to the deliciousness and variety of vegan food. I may have been too vested for too long in trying to craft the perfect pro-vegan arguments to see that vegan chocolate chip cookies have their own persuasiveness which may go beyond words. I’m finding out that the positive, friendly atmosphere of vegan feed-ins and bake sales are somewhat disarming and conducive to productive conversations; non-vegans attending these events seem more open, more honest, less defensive, less inclined to play “stump the vegan.” Food is an amazing activism tool. And it tastes great!

Perhaps the most gratifying part of the WVBS is witnessing the enthusiasm and creativity of all the participants. They’re the ones doing the heavy lifting and are the reason that the project is a success; I can’t give them enough props or gratitude. Not only will the bake sales feature an assortment of cookies, cupcakes, pies, brownies, breads, and muffins; they’ll also include danishes, cinnamon rolls, scones, donuts, cheesecakes – you name it Some bake sales will be combined with jewelry and crafts, or music shows by national acts or local groups. And check out these amazing posters for Atlanta, Ithaca, and Auckland bake sales! The hard work and amazing output from the organizers and bakers for all the local bake sales has been nothing short of inspiring. If you get a chance over the next couple weeks, stop by one or more of these bake sales if they’re in your area. Take home some wonderful goodies and help out worthy causes in the process. And know that the offerings on the bake sale tables all over the world are not only produced with flour, sugar, nondairy milk, and other cruelty-free ingredients; they’re also made with love – which can be quite an effective outreach tool.

AR 2008 Recap

3 Comments

On Saturday, I went to the Animal Rights 2008 Conference to attend a few sessions and catch up with a few people.  I bumped into, and chatted with, more people than I expected.  Among them: Josh from Herbivore, the folks from Cosmos Vegan Shoppe, Melanie Joy (who was manning the Lantern Books table), Terry (and volunteer Steve) from Poplar Spring, Eric from An Animal Friendly Life, Gary from Animal Writings, Deb from Invisible Voices, Jonathan Balcombe, Chad and Emiko from Food Fight, and surely others I’m forgetting.

I attended a handful of sessions and thought I’d comment briefly on each:

How to Deal with Despair/Guilt? (dealing with the enormity of our mission and the extent of animal suffering) – pattrice jones

In this workshop, pattrice jones from Eastern Shore Sanctuary (and author of the very good coping guide for activists, Aftershock) facilitated a discussion amongst activists about the inevitable feelings of hopelessness, despair, and guilt that arise when doing animal (or any other social justice) activism.  This is one workshop that would definitely be served well by being given a full morning three-hour timeslot.  Take note, AR 2009 organizers.

Abuse Abroad (animal abuse in other countries) – Gorski, Marr, Vigo

What really struck me in this talk came during Rattle the Cage’s Tim Gorski when he discussed the things he’d seen while undercover in Southeast Asia.  I attended this talk because I really don’t know too much about the animal abuse that goes on outside of the United States and Gorski certainly schooled me.  Things I learned:

  • The Medan Zoo in Indonesia houses an exhibit with orangutans addicted to cigarettes.  Tourists flick butts into the cages at the animals.  At the same zoo, stones and slingshots are sold.
  • In the Philippines, there is an orangutan whorehouse.  Read that sentence again.  And, yes, it’s exactly what you think.
  • In Northern Burma, gall bladders are carved from live bear cubs, shells are ripped from live turtles, live owls and eagles have their eyes cut out, and bear paws are cooked while still on the live bear cub.

He also discussed elephant trafficking in Thailand, where there are 3000 enslaved elephants that “work” for the tourist industry.  There are only 500 wild elephants in the wild in the country.

Speaker Maru Vigo of Derechos de los Animales discussed the connection between the Catholic church and the bullfighting industry in some Central American countries and Anthony Marr of the HOPE-CARE Foundation discussed the Alberta Tar Sands, another subject which I was completely ignorant about.

Perceptions of Animals (public perception of animals as food, companions, laborers, victims; role of language) – Davis, Prescott, Thompson

Eric covered the topic of our perception of animals’ roles and how those perceptions are reflected in the language we use.  Karen Davis discussed our perceptions of chickens and how those perceptions are challenged when people visit sanctuaries.  Good stuff, but each speaker definitely needed more than 15 minutes.

Engaging Ethnic Minorities – (African-Americans, Latin Americans, Asian-Americans) – Chang, Dalal, Ornelas

Lauren Ornelas of the Food Empowerment Project really stood out in this talk.  Hopefully she’s written more on the topic.

Does Welfare Bring Abolition? (should AR activists advocate welfare reforms as a path to abolition?) – Davis

I was expecting some chair-throwing in this workshop moderated by UPC‘s Karen Davis, but things stayed relatively civil.  One thing that’s easy to forget when discussions like this happen is that no one is actively trying to do anything to hurt animals.  Welfarists aren’t trying to stunt the movement and abolitionists aren’t trying to put theory ahead of the immediate need for welfare improvements now.  However, it does seem to me that when these discussions get underway, those supporting the welfare stance tend to get defensive and take criticisms of methods personally.

Something else I noticed is that in defenses of welfare reform, it’s often taken for granted that these welfare changes are actually substantially beneficial for the animals.  According to people I know that have seen cage free egg facilities, they say that the differences are minimal or any improvements are offset by a new series of safety issues.  Critics of Prop 2 in California (a subject I am admittedly underinformed about) note that not only is the language of the initiative limp in terms of its timeline and actual protections for animals, but attempts to promote the proposition use misleading phrases like “prevent animal cruelty – vote yes on Prop 2.”  Can something that still allows the torture and death of food animals honestly be said to “prevent” cruelty?

Perhaps the most important point made during the entire discussion, though, came from someone who pointed out that there haven’t been any well-designed polls or studies that show the effect of welfare reforms on people’s attitudes towards animals and eating habits.  I, for one, would love to see some data on how many people avoid vegetarianism (or give it up) when so-called “humane” meat is available.  I suspect that a lot of people who aren’t involved in “the movement” look to groups like the HSUS when it comes to animal issues.  If the HSUS is supporting a certain welfare reform, many will assume without much critical thought that it’s good enough for the animals, so therefore, it’s still justifiable to use, kill, and eat the animals now that they’re being treated better.

 

I’m glad I took the time to attend some sessions this year.  Though I went to AR 2006 and TAFA 2007, in both cases I didn’t attend any talks (I just went to meet up with Josh and Isa for AR 2006 and to help out at the Herbivore table in 2007).  Animal rights supporters are an interesting bunch and getting more and more diverse every year.  It’s a good feeling to be around so many other people that are on the same page (or at least in the same book).

Let Live

2 Comments

The Portland massive (Vegans for Animal Advocacy, No Compromise, Food Fight!, and Herbivore) will be putting on the Let Live Animal Rights Conference from June 27-29.  Even though I’m planning to attend AR 2008 this year because it’s nearby, the grassroots nature of the Let Live conference is much more appealing to me.  Why’s Portland have to be on the other coast?

Topics include Verbal Self Defense, Student Activism, Understanding Direct Action, Understanding Our Audience, Building Good Group Dynamics, and others, with presenters including Will Potter, Mark Hawthorne (I’m currently reading his new book, Striking at the Roots), and recent immigrant-to-Portland Isa Chandra Moskowitz (The Post Punk Kitchen).  Cost is a measly $10.  Here’s to hoping they make mp3s of the presentations available for purchase afterwards.