DOGFIGHTING'S POISONOUS POLITICS. Barking Mad by George
Pelecanos Post date: 08.31.07 Issue date: 09.10.07 I have a
dog named Buster, one of two mixed breeds I have adopted
through the Washington Humane Society on Georgia Avenue.
Buster is half pit bull, 80 pounds of muscle and jaw, and his
booming bark and very appearance at my home's front door make
delivery men nervous and an alarm system unnecessary. He
looks formidable, and he is, but he is also the gentlest dog
I have ever had. You cannot make him mad. If Buster had been
full pit, it is likely that I would not have been able to
adopt him. The Washington Humane Society euthanizes a large
percentage of the adult pit bulls they rescue, as they have
determined them to be unadoptable; they are simply too risky
to place into homes, especially those containing children.
These dogs have been permanently damaged by many of their
owners: trained, against their very nature, to attack, fight,
and maim. I have been writing about the pathology of
dogfighting for many years in books like Hell to Pay, in
screenplays for HBO's "The Wire," and, in great detail, in my
novel Drama City, which describes the life of a parolee
turned Humane Society law enforcement officer and his quest
for cleansing and a second chance via the job. At the time,
readers and viewers shrugged, but the Michael Vick scandal
has vaulted the issue into the front of the public's
consciousness. When I was researching Drama City, I rode with
two committed, tough Humane Society officers, Adam
Parascandola and Mitch Battle. The condition of abused
fighting dogs and makeshift arenas in the city was
eye-opening, but, in terms of numbers, the popularity of the
fad--to call it a sport is laughable--has receded.
Parascandola worked the toughest districts of the city during
the peak years of the pit bull craze, which, not
coincidentally, was also the era of the worst drug-related
violence ever perpetrated on this city. Big-purse bouts, held
in neighborhoods like Simple City, were funded by drug money,
their participants often flown in from out of town. A pit
bull was an accessory, like a four-finger ring or a new set
of rims, something to be discarded when its value had been
diminished. Dogs labeled curs--those who had lost fights and
shamed their owners--were shot in the head, thrown off the
rooftops of buildings, and dumped in alleys and dumpsters.
Let me put a finer point on it: Cowards, insecure about their
own manhood, murdered defenseless animals to save face among
their equally misguided peers.
I don't have any ax to grind with Michael Vick. He's going to pay a big price for what he did, and I'm all about forgiveness and the possibility of redemption. His story is significant for two reasons: There won't be any more dogs fought, tortured, or murdered under his watch, and his prosecution has brought the issue of dogfighting to light. Predictably, the event has stirred some rather spirited debate. Radio talk shows and the Internet have been heavy with chatter about the implications of the Vick scandal, most prominently veering towards the issue of race. Is the Vick story getting more play because he's black? Is this a takedown of a rich, black athlete who once flipped off his fans at a home football game? The questions are valid, and I'm always up for those discussions. The D.C. area is one of the most interesting regions in the country to live in precisely because we have these kinds of arguments, openly and heatedly, every day. Would people be so angry, collectively, if the perpetrator had been, say, Brett Favre or Peyton Manning? I honestly don't believe they would be. No doubt there are white people in this country who are pleased, in some distorted way, that a post-Iverson, hip-hop, millionaire black ballplayer with attitude got his comeuppance. And isn't it time to retire that code phrase "it's the culture" when speaking of African Americans and crime? After all, there are plenty of ignorant white Americans who are involved in the fighting and killing of dogs. That aside, it becomes disturbing when folks react to the racial aspects of the issue's blowback by defending the act and attempting to lessen the severity of the offense. Put another way, what should be debated and discussed is the reaction to the Vick affair, not his crime. So, please, if you're going to get into it, state your intentions in an honest manner. In a Washington Post column on August 22, Courtland Milloy equated the slaughtering of animals for food with the murder of dogs for fun, saying that it was hypocritical for meat-eaters to condemn Vick for his actions (he also informed us, pointlessly, that the murder of humans is a far worse crime than the murder of animals). Curiously, Milloy never mentioned race in his argument, though Washingtonians who have read his column for years knew that race was the subject of the column, as it is the subject of nearly every column he writes. The fact that he did not man up and clearly say what was on his mind, and the fact that his editors did not require him to do so, was deplorable. From time to time, I've been accused of seeing everything through the prism of race in my novels. Nevertheless, I'll continue to write about it, and I hope to read many more thoughtful pieces on the subject from people like Courtland Milloy. To be sure, there are valid discussions of race to be had on the disproportionate degree of media attention given to the Vick case. But let's be clear: Dogfighting itself should not be debated with regard to race, nor should it be reduced to ridiculous and illogical argument. Training dogs to fight is wrong. Murdering dogs is wrong. The issue is not complex. There is no other side. GEORGE PELECANOS is an independent film producer, a screenwriter, and the author of 14 novels set in and around Washington, D.C.
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