Albany, Georgia Considers BSL, But What Would MLK Do?

By Editor
In Breed-Specific Legislation
Jan 13th, 2014
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I hate to bring race into the discussion of breed-specific legislation (BSL), nor do I wish to single out only Albany, Georgia’s BSL, which this post is about.  But after having driven through much of the state of Georgia recently and having met many of its people, I can’t help but notice there is a rather palpable racial divide, of which this article is only one recent example. 

I say I hate to bring race into the BSL discussion, not because I haven’t many times seen BSL being used to racially profile, but because discussing race as relates to BSL can often take the focus off of the key issue concerning BSL and that is its complete and total inefficacy. In other words, BSL can’t be about safety, because after decades of BSL being passed, it is well known that BSL doesn’t keep communities safer.

But then, the inefficacy of BSL, which is well known at this point, is precisely why I can so easily argue that BSL is simply a means by which lazy bureaucrats racially profile, and not just in the south.  For instance, a Chicago alderman once famously quipped about a breed-specific mandatory spay/neuter ordinance being proposed that,

“When you drive down the street and see a gang banger with all kinds of gang regalia walking along with two or three pit bulls, it’s pretty simple for the policeman to raise the dog’s tail and see whether or not it’s spayed or neutered. If it’s not, the gang member is in violation,” Burke said, noting that street gangs operate dog-fighting rings.

Was the breed-specific mandatory spay/neuter ordinance proposal really meant to curb so-called “pit bulls” or simply single out their African-American and Latino owners?

Much like Chicago’s would-be discriminatory ordinance, Albany’s ordinance proposal has the usual “model” provisions we’ve seen for years now:

  • Owners must register their dogs with the Animal Control Division of the Albany Police Department, and
  • Owners must maintain either a policy of general liability insurance in the amount of at least $100,000, etc.

The ordinance proposal also states that,

“Every owner of a pit bull dog subject to this ordinance shall at all time maintain for said dog a proper enclosure. A proper enclosure means an enclosure for keeping a pit bull dog while on the owner’s property securely confined indoors or in a securely enclosed or locked pen, fence, or structure suitable to prevent the entry of younger children and designed to prohibit the dog from escaping said enclosure.”

Pit bull advocates have seen this provision in “model” dog ordinances since the 1980s, and for decades it has codified the inhumane treatment of the dogs politicians and doggy killers call “pit bulls.”  Keeping a dog constantly indoors, caged, or muzzled (and yes, this “model” ordinance typically has a muzzling requirement) as a provision of a “model” dog law is animal cruelty of which Dogsbite.org is only the latest provider. And since BSL doesn’t even work, all this “model” dog law really accomplishes is to torture innocent animals which is more likely to bring about the very aggression the ordinance claims to want to curb.

But then, this “model” ordinance is often cruel to the dog owner too.  Indeed, like all BSL I believe Albany’s pit bull ordinance is racially driven, at least on some level, especially after having been in Georgia.  I can say emphatically that racism is certainly alive and well in Georgia.  So, like Chicago intended to do, I wonder if Albany, Georgia will simply use their BSL proposal to racially profile.

And don’t give me this business about how BSL is the only way to crack down on dog fighting, especially since some in the community of Albany have pointed to dog fighting as the real problem there, not any one specific breed (and of course dog fighters use all kinds of dogs and mixed breeds to engage in their brutal and illicit blood sport). 

BSL is NOT a way to crack down on dog fighting. Chicago hasn’t passed a breed-specific law and instead added several more Animal Control Officers to specifically focus on cracking down on dog fighting using specially-trained ACOs in order to do so.  Besides, dog fighters are already breaking the law in a big bad way by engaging in the bloodsport of dog fighting.  Do you think they’ll simply stop their illicit practices simply because Albany banned or restricted “pit bulls”?

As Winnipeg showed when they tried to crack down on the prolific drug house problem they had in the 1990s by banning so-called “pit bulls,” if the criminals actually did stop owning “pit bulls” because of BSL (and that’s a big if) then they just switched to owning other breeds that they likewise abused in order to make them mean enough to protect their illegal drug operations. 

It’s the same with dog fighting.  But then, we have decades of evidence that BSL in any form is ineffective — whether an outright ban or simply breed-specific restrictions — and does not keep the community safer.

And as an aside, I spent several very unpleasant days in Georgia recently wherein I witnessed first-hand a surprising amount of racism.  At one point my husband actually saw a white man turn his back to an African-American as he walked by while we were in Atlanta. I guess back-turning is meant to be some kind of insult, but it really just made Atlanta look bad.  I likewise watched brush-offs and just plain rudeness from some whites to some blacks while in Georgia. Unbelievable. 

The racism may be latent, but it’s clearly still there.  While taking a tour of Savannah, for instance, the Civil War was jokingly referred to as “the late unpleasantness” and no apology seemed to have been offered for it.  Maybe it’s just me, but I expect southerners to own up to their history and admit it was wrong, not ever-so-gently tap dance around it and refer to it via euphemism.

Take Charleston, South Carolina for instance.  The difference between Charleston and Savannah was like night and day.  While some in Savannah glossed quickly over the Civil War offering no apology for it, tour guides in Charleston acknowledged that Charleston was a major port for the “importing” of slaves and showed the disgust that is appropriate when imparting such knowledge.  

Likewise the Charleston tours highlight those brave individuals who worked in the underground railroad or those who owned what came to be called “The Slave Market” (meaning a place where slaves bought goods for their masters’ households, not where slaves were actually sold) who refused to allow anyone in the city of Charleston to use the City Market land if slaves were going to be sold on it.  One horse-drawn tour in particular even noted the African influence on what has come to be known as some of the world’s finest cuisine in Charleston.  

And while Atlanta appears to only give lip service to Civil Rights with the Martin Luther King, jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, I don’t think the memorial sees many white people, let alone white Georgians.  Sadly, the African-Americans there to pay their respects seemed surprised to see me there at all, but were extremely kind, considerate, and helpful while I was there.  But that’s probably not out of the ordinary for them to return kindness in the face of social injustice.  In fact, looking back on my life, several times when I was bullied or treated unjustly, it was an African-American who often came to my rescue.  Coincidence?  Absolutely not.  

Yet, there are those who still believe that not only is racism justifiable, but God-ordained!  In fact, when I was a little girl, I remember asking my mother why some people were so mean to black people. She told me that the curse of Noah on Ham his son had been preached in Protestant churches for a long time.  Ham, referred to in the Bible as the father of Canaan, who was believed to have been dark-skinned, was cursed by his father Noah for reasons I absolutely will not discuss here, with the following pronouncement in Genesis 9:25:

“Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants He shall be to his brothers.”

And yes, the above verse was unbelievably used to justify slavery, and is most likely still used to justify racism.

Yet those who are quick to apply their errant biblical theology to fit their racist bent will often overlook Jesus’ example of love for all, even His own murderers, and the Apostle Paul’s summation of Jesus’, and therefore God’s, laws of morality.  For instance, Paul wrote in his epistle to the Galatians,

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

In other words, to God there is neither “Jew nor Greek” — meaning that God does not see colors, or races, or ethnicities, or cultures, or religions, or gender, or slaves or freed peoples — God simply sees His creation which He loves.  And if God loves all those people, which is all the people on the planet, then who are we to see anyone as lesser for any reason?   

Yet some are quick to point out that the Galatians 3:28 verse only refers to Jesus’ equal-opportunity salvation, or what is referred to as “salvific status,” but then if Jesus offers saving grace to all, why would He, or why should we, discriminate against anyone for any reason?  Do those who are prejudiced really believe God would send His own Son to die on the cross to save all mankind and offer that saving grace to all but then turn right around and say that some were worth more than others because of the color of their skin or because of gender or cultural status?  How absurd! 

No, it is a fallen world that hierarchizes some people over other people.  And Jesus came to set that straight which is why He spent so much time with societal outcasts like lepers and tax collectors.  He came to save all, and not just their souls; He came to save them from societal oppression as well.  Too bad there are still some who want to keep certain groups of people “lesser.”  

But then I’m naive.  I really expected things to be different in the south by now, and in certain areas like Charleston, they are.  But you go to other places like Savannah and Atlanta and the racism is absolutely still there, just perhaps on the down-low. I wonder if that’s the case for Albany too and again, I wonder if their breed-specific ordinance proposal is less about so-called “pit bulls,” or even about eradicating dog fighting, and more about racial control.  

What?  Are we in this day and age afraid to confront our past demons? (which clearly aren’t past at all.)  Sure, because again, it’s easier to pay lip service to Civil Rights, name a street here or there after Martin Luther King, jr., but never enact the social equality he dreamed of.  And I would argue that’s exactly what has happened.  BSL is only one way elitists profile African-Americans.  Job discrimination is another, if those long lines full of African-American job seekers down several city blocks in Atlanta are any indication.  

Savannah_homeless_gentleman

Or look at the man in the above photo.  Panhandling is illegal in Savannah and so they encourage those residents or tourists who have been propositioned for money by the homeless on Savannah streets to report them to the Savannah Police Department.  Meanwhile, I saw this poor gentleman sitting out in front of this gate for two straight days.  If I had been smart enough to figure out that he was homeless, I would have given him money. No law against that is there Savannah?

I saw another African-American homeless gentleman digging through the trash in a Savannah alley on one of my city tours.  Yes, how horrible it would have been for someone to offer these folks some money, or God forbid a job, so that they can get themselves out of the predicament they’ve found themselves in 100+ years after they’ve been “emancipated”!

Yes, by all means, let’s report these poor souls to the police, and while you’re waiting, maybe kick some dirt in their face.  After all, they’re probably responsible for their own homelessness right, and America is the land of opportunity and anyone who can’t make it here is just lazy right?  It can’t simply be that so much friction holding a person down day after day after day is overwhelming and depressing such that someone might turn to alcohol or drugs and then end up on the streets, could it?  

I hope you were getting all the sarcasm that was intended by the above paragraph, because the lack of humanity I witnessed against African-Americans in Georgia turned my stomach.  And I don’t mean to make this a north/south thing either.  The Chicago area where I live still has the KKK slipping “educational” pamphlets in people’s mailboxes, and in one suburb, a member of the KKK was actually on the police force!

Like I said, I guess I’m naive.  I didn’t realize racism was still so prevalent, just underground now.  I didn’t realize that when I took up the Civil Rights issue as pertains to breed-specific legislation that I, and indeed all BSL opposers, were really picking up the fight against racism.  Certainly if MLK were alive, he would quickly and easily see that breed-specific legislation isn’t just prejudice against breeds of dog, but most definitely also prejudice against their minority owners.

And yes this post is probably a digression from both the topic of Albany, Georgia and even BSL, but I don’t care.  I’m tired of elitism, whether it comes from the wealthy, the whites, the power brokers, the royals, or whomever. All elitism is is a cowardly front for a massive inferiority complex because why would you have to put yourself over someone else if you didn’t on some level — whether consciously or unconsciously — feel inadequate?

I’m also tired of the lip service I see given to Civil Rights even as cities and counties use back-door legislation like breed-specific ordinances to racially profile.  We’ve heard of “driving while black” ticketing, well BSL is “owning a ‘pit bull’ while black (or Latino)” profiling.  As the quote from the Chicago alderman above illustrated so well, BSL is just another pretense for scrutinizing minorities.

If a city like Chicago has a gang problem because some illegal immigrants join gangs and run drugs, etc., then crack down on that problem, don’t pass BSL as a pretense to racially profile African-Americans or Latinos, the majority of whom are law-abiding even though they may own dogs you think are scary. Likewise, if you have a dog fighting problem, well that’s not limited to any one race. Train your Animal Control Officers to look for the signs of dog fighting (signs which do not include ownership of dogs you call “pit bulls” by a certain race or races.)

MLK_Coretta_Scott_King_crypt

Still, as I looked at MLK’s sepulcher, I was uncharacteristically emotional and remembered that while in Chicago, the city where I’m from, Martin Luther King, jr. was met with perhaps some of the worst vitriol from racists and was actually hit in the head with a brick. A BRICK!  This is a history from my own city that I will neither deny nor minimize.  I will remember this injustice, even apologize for it, though I wasn’t alive at the time it occurred, and I will go on to pick up the fight for Civil Rights; Civil Rights which are negated by BSL.  

I will remember that even though MLK was hit in the head by a brick in the city in which I was born, he was able to say,

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

And hate, whether it’s of a minority, or the dog they happen to own, isn’t going to solve our societal problems.  Only God-given grace, love, and understanding can do that.  

So it’s likewise not a surprise that Coretta Scott King’s sepulcher reads, from Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians (chapter 13, verse 13),

“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”

Amen. 

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