Back in November 2009, a young black man was arrested in North Carolina for “maliciously” torturing a dog named Susie. As a result, the state responded to this “animal cruelty” by making the current law “tougher.” That means, rather than receive probation for torturing and killing a dog or cat, you can receive up to ten months in jail, which from an animal welfare standpoint is a vast improvement. The North Carolina house bill (otherwise known as Susie’s Law) is named after the puppy who was tortured almost to death. The torturer, named LaShawn Whitehead of Greensboro, burned and beat her to near death. Fortunately, she managed to survive but lost her ears in the process and suffers from psychological trauma. Rather than receive jail time (like he certainly would for attempted murder if Susie was a human), he initially received probation until the new law was passed. Now he’s another black man in jail. This is because he pleaded guilty to “burning personal property and felony animal cruelty.” Apparently, he was worried that the puppy would “jump on his newborn.”
I’m troubled by this incident because here yet is another case of a black man perpetrating violence against another animal; and so often, the animal is a dog. Two days ago, a Memphis man left several pit bills tied up outside for hours in 103 degree weather without food or water. He was charged with felony animal cruelty and sentenced to probation. Animal Control also ordered him to retrieve the dogs from the pound because “pit bulls cannot be adopted from the shelter, so all the dogs could possibly be euthanized.”
And then there’s Cornelius Antwain Woodland who decapitated a puppy.
And then there’s James Davis who “mummy” duck-taped a kitten.
And of course, everyone knows about Michael Vick.
These kind of stories (where a black person, usually a man, comments heinous abuse against an animal) are so commonplace that I fear we in the black community have too few who take this violence seriously. I grew up in Memphis, TN in a poor predominately black neighborhood where very few people seemed to care about animals, where violence against animals, children, and women was rampant, where dog packs would form to escape their abusers.
However, don’t assume because I’m focusing on black folks’ abusive relations with other animals that it doesn’t occur in other ethnic and racial communities. On the contrary, violence against animals is an epidemic around the world–whether wild, feral, or “tame”. Unfortunately, if you’re searching the web for news on animal abuse updates, the majority you will find are young black men. Now, I don’t doubt for a second that there’s racial profiling of black men involved here and we need to challenge that, but it doesn’t excuse the men for what they’ve done. Because I care about the health of the black community and our relations with other animals, I think we as black folks should pay attention further and actually question whether our shaking off animal abuse as a “cultural thing” in our community truly “isn’t a big deal.”