Before you go getting all offended by the title of this post, hear me out.
back when, before the choke hold death of a black man in New York,
before the gunning down of a black almost-college-freshman in Ferguson,
Missouri; before the fatal shootings of young black boys in a WalMart and Cleveland playground. . .
all those tragic examples of what happens when police officers view
some citizens as less than human, there were repeated accounts of tragic
encounters between cops run riot and family pets, specifically family
Indeed, the day that the
killing in Ferguson grabbed the spotlight, I was planning this post in
response to the increasingly common news stories of law enforcement
officials gunning down dogs who were doing nothing more than protecting
the residences of their human families. These were not junk yard dogs,
or drug dealer dogs, or attack trained dogs. These were dogs who
happened to be in the residences entered or yards traversed by cops
pursuing alleged criminals. The dogs had the audacity to growl and bark
at uniformed officers who entered the dogs' domains, domains that their
human families relied upon them to protect and give notice of
In each and every
case, the dogs were deemed "dangerous" by the trespassing officers and
shot dead. Never mind that the houses belonged to law-abiding citizens
whose yards the suspects just happened to cut through while fleeing
capture. Or, in other cases, the houses belonged to law-abiding
citizens whose homes were erroneously targeted in no-knock warrant
sweeps that had would-be stormtroopers crashing through front doors, to
be challenged by the resident canis lupus famillaris.
I have seen dog fights. When a new male collie challenged our alpha
female collie, I could not believe that the two beasts battling it out
in front of me were the same beautiful, tame, friendly pets who followed
us around and played with us like the big, overgrown puppies they
were. Jaws opened to improbable widths. Fangs slashed with dizzying
speed. Roars that had no relation to typical barks or growls thundered
from throats raised high above the ground as the challengers jockeyed
for position and a maiming bite.
times I was witness to the savage ferocity of these cousins of the
wolf. The contests ended only when our human pack leader exerted his
authority during the third fight, firmly ensconcing the female above the
male in pack hierarchy.
fights between our Lassie lookalikes made clear that every dog is both
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In every playful, fuzzy puppy romping with its
human family lurks the cunning, fierce, dangerous protector of the
pack. To a dog, every human who has not been accepted as a friend by
its family is a threat to the pack. Every human who enters the pack's
domain without permission presents a danger to be kept at bay.
In short, dogs can be fiercesome
creatures, capable of eliciting the most primitive response of fear
with nothing more than a curled lip, flattened ears, raised hackles, or
I can appreciate that a cop confronted by a protective dog can feel
threatened, too often it is the dog who pays the price for a cop's
arrogant -- yet wrongful -- fear-induced assertion of power in the dog's
domain. And too often, the cop gets away with slaughtering the family
pet, because no one has told them they may not kill dogs with impunity,
with no repercussions, and no accountability.
Dogs are, after all, just dogs.
first ten amendments set forth in the Bill of Rights to the U.S.
Constitution requiring warrants, prohibiting unreasonable searches and
seizures, and protecting against cruel and unusual punishment don't
apply to dogs.
Do you see where I'm going here?
a cop adopts a "shoot first and ask questions later" attitude in
dealing with black males, two things are going on deep within that human's
psyche. First, as in dealing with a protective dog, the cop is
reacting on a visceral level to a whole host of fear cues. Sometime,
somewhere, somehow, the cop learned to associate black males with
imminent, mortal danger. Second, the cop is reflecting a societal norm
in this country that ranks blacks somewhere way, way below
Caucasian males in the right to be treated with respect; to be
protected by the full panoply of due process rights set forth in the
Constitution; and to be deprived of life or liberty, only after a judge
or jury -- and not some random individual or lynch mob or cop -- has
found sufficient evidence of an actionable offense.
something else is going on as well. Just as there has been no national
consensus that the indiscriminate killing of family dogs by marauding
cops must end, there has -- until Ferguson -- been no national outcry
against cops treating citizens of the United States as enemy combatants
and deaths of those citizens as collateral damage in the war on crime.
news coverage of the Ferguson riots demonstrated, the militarized
police forces terrorizing minority neighborhoods are as far removed from
the homespun wisdom of a Sheriff Office run by Andy Griffith, or a
Sparta, Mississippi, Police Department run by Carrol O'Connor, as the
Hubble telescope is from the Earth's atmosphere. The Constable On
Patrol (COP) who used to diffuse sticky situations with nothing more
than words and a whistle has been replaced by ex-Army, ex-Special
Forces, ex-Marine veterans-turned-cops, whose attitudes about perceived
enemies are as much a barrier to communicating with the people they are
supposed to "protect and serve" as the storm trooper gear they don at
the least provocation.
has begun imitating art when it comes to policing in America. All
those movies and television shows that have helmeted, body armoured,
jackbooted SWAT Teams spilling out of massive personnel carriers,
smashing through front doors with battering rams, and tossing flash-bang
grenades through windows have become the civics classes for too many
law enforcement officials. The policing reality painted by Hollywood
writers has replaced more than 200 years of due process law that forbids
exactly the kind of mayhem being loosed upon our citizenry, especially
our black, male citizenry.
is time our police return to school to be reminded that this country
was founded by people who fought a Revolutionary War to assure that they
could enjoy the same rights and privileges that officers routinely
promise to preserve and protect during their swearing in ceremonies. A
different generation, in a different Civil War, fought to assure that
those rights and privileges would be enjoyed by all black citizens. And
an entire movement was launched in the 1960's to demand the immediate
adherence to the series of constitutional amendments adopted after the
Civil War, specifically intended to guarantee those rights for all
citizens regardless of race.
As Section 1 of the 14th Amendment makes clear:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States,
and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United
States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or
enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of
citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of
life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any
person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
officers, whether employed by a city, state, or federal law enforcement
agency, are representatives of "the State" when acting in their
official capacity. When they kill a citizen, or detain a citizen, or
destroy the property of a citizen without first adhering to the
requirements of due process, those officers violate the Constitution
and, thus, their oath of office.
is past time that our law enforcement officials learn exactly what
"rights" they have sworn a duty to preserve, and stop killing the
citizens they have been entrusted to protect. And while they are at it,
perhaps police officers can learn that it's not OK to deprive citizens
of their property, i.e., the family dog, merely because it is more
expedient to kill a perceived threat and, after all, a dog is just a