Friday, March 13, 2015

America's Dogs of Oppression

This is the Kelly Ingram park in Birmingham, Alabama which is located across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church which was bombed by racists in September of 1963, sending four young school girls to their death.

Think about these sculptures for a minute -- and about the role of dogs in police oppression and violence against citizens the world over.

In the hands of police, the use of dogs to oppress and intimidate people is far more common than their use as tools to catch criminals or even locate the lost. In an era of police helicopters, bean-bag rounds, and thermal imaging, catch dogs are bringing less and less to the law enforcement table.

The inscription on the statue, above, reads:

This sculpture is dedicated to the foot soldiers of the Birmingham Civil Rights movement.

With gallantry, courage, and great bravery they faced the violence of attack dogs, high powered water hoses, and bombings. They were the fodder in the advance against injustice. Warriors of a just cause; they represent humanity unshaken in their firm belief in their nation's commitment to liberty and justice for all.

We salute these men and women who were the soldiers of this great cause.

Richard Arrington, Jr, Mayor of Birmingham, May 1995

And yes, what is depicted here happened all the time and was repeatedly photographed. The whole world was watching and the actions of these police officers are framed forever.

In the U.S., about 2,000 law enforcement agencies have K-9 dog units, but the level of training of both dogs and people is very uneven, and as a consequence handlers and innocent civilians are routinely bitten, driving up liability costs for all taxpayers.

Studies have shown that law enforcement dogs are disproportionately used in inner-city communities, and of course dogs have been used in the torture and intimidation of prisoners, by both the U.S. and other countries, for more than 100 years.


The use of dogs by civilian police forces
in the U.S. is in need of a long overdue examination.

For example, in Ferguson, Missouri, the center of a great deal of animosity and controversy at the moment, we find, according to the most recent Department of Justice report, that the use of police attack dogs was “part of a pattern of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment,” that dog bites were exclusively inflicted on African-Americans, and that the police “appear to use canines not to counter a physical threat but to inflict punishment.“

Of course, any tool is subject to abuse. That said, some tools are simply more expensive and riskier than they need to be. Do police dogs too often fall into that category? Has the rise of alternative methods and technologies changed the cost-benefit equation?  Did the equation ever really balance?

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