Canine Lives Matter

According to Department of Justice (DOJ) estimates, police officers shoot and kill about 10,000 dogs and about 1,000 humans each year. The DOJ asserts that dog killings have become an “epidemic.” It is time we address the obvious issue of systemic anti-canine racism among police officers. 

Do Police Hate Dogs?

Perhaps a better word to describe police canine racism would be “species-ism,” which is actually a real word in the dictionary. It means “the assumption of human superiority leading to the exploitation of animals.” But to emphasize the role played by deliberate discrimination against targeted groups, let’s just stick with the word racism.

Why would police kill so many of the creatures widely known as man’s best friend? And of the dogs who are shot, are they the victims of unfair prejudice against particular breeds? What kind of dogs are most likely to be shot? Pit Bulls and Rottweilers. And guess what? Both breeds are black and brown-haired dogs–a sure sign of systemic racism against dogs of color, no?

Sure, Put Bulls and Rottweilers also happen to be considered two of the most dangerous breeds. Research from DogsBite.org shows that during the 15-year period from 2005 to 2019, canines killed 521 Americans. Pit bulls and rottweilers accounted for 76% (397) of these deaths. According to another government study of dog attacks, “there appears to be a breed-specific problem with fatalities.” 

The Most Dangerous Dogs?

Police claim that most shootings happened because they feared an imminent attack. But were they really in danger of lethal attack, or was it their racially-biased perception of those breeds that was most responsible for the shootings? There have been no officer deaths from a dog attack in the last 70 years. Many victims claim that their dogs were doing nothing wrong and were merely scared themselves, but their behavior was mistaken by nervous cops for aggression. In other words, police violence was based on expectations derived from stereotypes rather than an objective evaluation of the situation. Surely, this is a sign of systemic racism. 

Clearly, police get jumpy around dogs they perceive to be aggressive. Officers shooting at dogs have killed many innocent bystanders, including dog owners, other kids, fellow cops, and even themselves trying to use lethal force against dogs. If cops cannot assess when lethal force should be used against a dog, it becomes more of a problem when it should be used against a person. 

A pet owner’s recourse to hold cops accountable for killing a family pet is not easy. The law provides “immunity” for cops unless their actions were “plainly incompetent” or they violated the law. In order for someone to show a constitutional violation when a cop kills his dog, a person must show that the cop’s actions were “unreasonable” given the situation.

Are more K-9 Police the solution to dog shootings?

While it is true that most police departments have their own K-9 police dogs, who are loved and treated like part of their law-enforcement family, it has not stopped the violence against other members of the species. Maybe if there were more K-9 officers, it would help to reduce the amount of violence against civilian dogs. 

Los Angeles attorney and former law enforcement officer Mildred O’Linn told law enforcement magazine Police that the public’s growing awareness of cops shooting dogs has resulted in an explosive community response. “The public cares about these kinds of incidents on a magnitude that is sometimes lost on law enforcement,” she said. “Given that there’s no shortage of actual human beings getting shot by police officers, pointing these stories out can sometimes seem a bit callous,” says Radley Balko, a journalist who has done much to expose cops killing dogs. “But I think they’re worth noting,” he says, “because they all point to the same problem.” Police magazine said “shooting a dog brings more heat down on an agency than an officer-involved shooting of a human.”

The bottom line is that there are too many cops killing both canines and humans. Is it possible there is a problem with police violence in general, or are shootings clear evidence of systemic racism deliberately targeted against certain breeds of canines? I think the answer is clear. What do you think?

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