Friday, January 29, 2010

on the (de)merits of breed-specific legislation

i came across this piece of brilliant "journalism" the other day and was so blown away, i had to share it.

according to the la times, lancaster, california's city officials feel that breed-specific legislation has been helpful in reducing so-called gang-related crime in the city. lancaster's mayor, r. rex parris, claims that a year after imposing legislation that targets owners of pit bulls and rottweilers (all gang-banging criminals, mind you, because we all know that nice families don't adopt those dogs) crime is down and "lancaster is now a great deal safer because of it."

the ordinance enables hearing officers to assess and deem a dog potentially dangerous, if, for example, it "becomes aggressive when unprovoked." as a result, the dog can be impounded and the owner is then required to have it properly licensed, microchipped, and vaccinated at his own cost before the animal's release. furthermore, owners of these so-called vicious and dangerous dogs must properly leash and muzzle their dogs, complete a dog obedience course, spay/neuter the animal(s) and pay a fine of up to $500 for each offense. if and/or once their dogs are deemed "vicious," the owners can be fined up to $1000 per offense and be prevented from having other dogs for up to three years.

alright, alright. you already knew i was gonna call bullshit on this, but really? can't you even make it just a little bit hard for me to refute your nonsense, la times? this is like taking candy from a baby. or, in this case, taking dogs from people who are likely unfairly targeted and are least likely to have access to the resources to educate and protect themselves, their rights, and their dogs. these are often also the same people who are most likely to be hated socially (so-called and alleged criminal involvement aside) and who made the bad choice to have dogs who, by association with their owners, are also despised.

are we really to believe that by impounding and--when not reclaimed, most likely-- murdering these companion animals that lancaster's streets are safer? city officials claim that violent gang crime is down 45% since this the ordinance passed. "violent gang crime," is never defined, but includes homicides, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. to me, this begs the question: what role do the dogs play in these crimes? how do the dogs enable or engender these crimes? this is never once explained, it is just stated ipso facto. this article and its premise are driven by prevailing prejudices against the breed and the people most often presumed to be their owners or aficionados--so much so that these sorts of claims are able to be made and still seem credible even without substantiation or explanation.

furthermore, i want to know: how much of the overall crime rate does violent gang crime comprise? surely gang members aren't the only ones responsible for or involved in homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults--as if those were the only crimes that occur or concern people. by arguing that breed specific legislation helps keep a city safe, the notion that crime ostensibly involves the poor and/or people of color is insidiously perpetuated. the systemic targeting and removal of this breed of dog is a sort of canine prison industrial complex.

i'm also curious if the animal control officers are qualified to assess whether or not an animal is vicious. how is "vicious" defined? what criteria do they follow? what constitutes "unprovoked"? please don't misunderstand me--while working in animal control, i have met dogs that i am confident would have attacked me. however, in two years, i can count on one hand the number of times that has happened to me--and only one of them was a pit bull. my point is that terror and hype around these dogs and their presumed constituency is enough to "justify" there being far too little, if any, demand for any semblance of an explanation for their treatment or for, to borrow one of my daddy's phrases, this piss-poor example of journalism.

and just to be clear--i've never claimed to be objective, because i don't think true objectivity exists. i staunchly and adamantly believe that bullies are the best dogs under the sun. i aspire to be objective and yet still acknowledge my own subjectivity. through this, i hope to make apparent the public's and media's wild lack of neutrality where these dogs are concerned.

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