In the last ten years, I have seen so much conspicuously unconstitutional legislation that little surprises me anymore. Yet, when I received a form letter from Saginaw Councilman “Doctor” Bill Scharffe last week, even my jaw dropped. I have only one time prior ever seen such arrogance, such dismissiveness, and such belligerence in defense of the indefensible: a breed-specific ordinance that would restrict 10 breeds of dog based on nothing more than a widely-discredited CDC “study” which was dismissed by the study’s own authors.
The tip-off that “Doctor” Bill Scharffe might be one of those politicians that just couldn’t resist lecturing someone whose letter he hadn’t even bothered to read was the fact that though he only holds a Ph.D. (as opposed to an M.D.) he insists on being called “doctor.” This practice has generally fallen out of use and is today most often seen in those with an inferiority complex. I believe this is what The Who called an “eminence front.” You know, it’s a put-on. Napoleon complexes tend to be somewhat common in politics as you might well imagine. We often see elected officials who overcompensate for some shortcoming in life by using bloated titles or some other ridiculous form of puffery. Funny, isn’t that what they say owners of “pit bulls” and Rottweilers do; use their dogs to supposedly overcompensate for some inadequacy? Project much?
So Bill Scharffe clearly prides himself on supposedly being erudite, but for all his education he seems to be ignorant (or at least one-sided) on the issue of breed-specific legislation. For instance, in his glib response sent to all us opposed to breed-specific legislation (BSL), he describes us as caring more about our rights to own so-called “dangerous” animals than we do for the safety of citizens of Saginaw, Michigan and by supposedly taking this stance, we are, according to Mr. Bill Scharffe, selfish. If taking a stand for inalienable constitutional rights is wrong, then I don’t want to be right Bill Scharffe!
And speaking of wrongs, is it not the ultimate folly to arbitrarily restrict 10 breeds of dog based on a junk science “study” wherein the study’s own authors advise against BSL because the study itself “does not identify specific breeds that are most likely to bite or kill”? (Emphasis mine.) Yes, and what did the CDC warn against based on their own study?: that it “is not appropriate for policy-making decisions related to the topic. In fact, based on their own “study,” the CDC concluded that,
“Breed-specific legislation does not address the fact that a dog of any breed can become dangerous… From a scientific point of view, we are unaware of any formal evaluation of the effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in preventing fatal or nonfatal dog bites. An alternative to breed-specific legislation is to regulate individual dogs and owners on the basis of their behavior.”
If anyone would read the original CDC report (or you can read our evaluation of it here), they’d see that the CDC also calls BSL into question for its constitutionality, or lack thereof. Indeed, BSL is an egregious violation of the constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, and the right to own property (the breeds in question) especially given that breed bans and breed-specific restrictions are worldwide known to be ineffective legislation. Therefore, due to their well-known lack of efficacy, breed-specific laws cannot be passed under the guise of public health, welfare, and safety because BSL deprives owners of their property and doesn’t even make the community safer. And while for some reason BSL proponents keep citing Toledo and Denver as supposed BSL success stories, Saginaw should know that BSL has been ruled unconstitutional in Toledo, and in the 2004 case of Margolius v. The City of Denver, it was shown that Mr. Margolius’ due process rights were violated when Denvers own Animal Control Officers could not discern what was and was not a “pit bull” as defined by their own ordinance.
So how exactly is defending the Constitution selfish Bill Scharffe??? (especially when the supposed “evidence” for the need to negate the Constitution is, on Saginaw, Michigan’s part, so very flimsy.) Isn’t standing up for the inalienable — meaning not severable — rights of your fellow countrymen the most selfless thing you can do? Isn’t that what our men and women in uniform abroad are fighting for Mr. Bill Scharffe, to give freedom and basic human rights to those who have been denied them? Maybe you and some on the Saginaw, Michigan City Council are being selfish by pushing breed-specific legislation; i.e. applying Band-Aid solutions to a hemorrhage of a problem because it’s easier than addressing the real problems. Michigan has a gang problem which is evidence of a state very hard-hit by the economic downturn. As of November 2010, Michigan has almost the worst unemployment rate in the U.S. at 12.4%! So restricting the ownership of 10 breeds of dog helps the economically-disadvantaged how?
Saginaw Mayor Greg Branch said something similar to those of us opposed to BSL in 2009 when Saginaw was initially considering BSL. The then-councilman wrote,
“And I can only wish that, some day, young, predominantly African-American male humans at risk of gang membership, homicide and animal abuse can benefit from the kind of nationwide rallying, intensively researched lobbying and powerful compassion from complete strangers that pit bulls receive today.”
He implied that those opposed to BSL cared more about the dogs we were trying to save than the inner-city youth who have few options and so get caught up in the gang/drug/dog fighting lifestyle. This blanket statement is beyond outrageous and offensive considering that many times I have, on this blog and with elected officials, offered suggestions about how to combat gangs. I have suggested after-school programs that keep kids away from gangs and drugs. I have suggested gang and dog fighting task forces. I have suggested that law enforcement officers — both Animal Control and police officers — receive training in how to recognize and crack down on dog fighting. In fact I recently offered this advice to Ypsilanti Township, Michigan when I wrote,
“…dog fighting is heinous not just for the dogs that are abused but for the children and young adults that witness it. It does something to their psyche and makes them hardened. These kids witnessing this kind of violence develop a nonchalant attitude about it and often go on to join gangs themselves because they adopt a hardened attitude. How much different would the picture be for both the kids and the dogs if these kids had more after-school programs to join and someone took a genuine interest in them other than the gangs that try to recruit them?”
I then concluded,
“…you can see how a so-called “pit bull” problem isn’t really a “pit bull” problem at all; it’s a greater societal problem. Unfortunately, the problem often isn’t addressed until there is already an entrenched gang problem wherein law enforcement has to address it. But still, community programs that keep kids away from gangs and drugs can burn the candle at one end, and task forces that get the community involved in ending gang and drug violence burn the candle at the other end. And somewhere in there the “pit bull” “problem” is addressed just as a matter of addressing the real problems.”
So really? Those opposed to BSL don’t have compassion for people? Obviously we do care. We care enough to point out just how often BSL is racist and classist. (And we know BSL is racist and classist given how many times BSL proponents use the “those people” euphemism to describe lower-income African-Americans or Latinos that happen to own bulldog breeds or other breeds BSL proponents claim are used as status symbols.) So Mayor Greg Branch and Councilman Bill Scharffe, you could not be more wrong. Those opposed to BSL care very deeply about the real problems; we care enough to oppose impotent legislation like BSL that we know isn’t going to keep Saginaw, Michigan safer or end the cycle of violence that is the gang lifestyle. Unfortunately, many elected officials just aren’t listening.
Still, it would seem that ending the gang, drug, and dog fighting problems that are apparently rampant in Michigan would be something a city council should address for their respective cities and towns, and I mean, by other than proposing Band-Aid breed-specific legislation that has proven the world over to be ineffective, unenforceable, and in this country, unconstitutional. [And yes I do mean the world over. The Toronto Humane Society in a survey of cities released statistics in May 2010 that “establishes Ontarios 2005 ban on ‘pit bull’ breeds or dogs that resemble pit bulls has not made any difference in the number of dog bites.” Italy and the Netherlands recently repealed their BSL, and the U.K. is currently poised to overturn their 20-year long breed ban due to a huge rise in banned fighting dogs. Here in this country, and as already stated, Toledo, Ohios BSL was ruled unconstitutional in January 2010 as it went well beyond the purview of state law, and legislation currently in the Ohio legislature seeks to remove the archaic dangerous dog designation for “pit bulls” via HB 14. Rockville Centre, New York also repealed their BSL July 23, 2010, citing its unconstitutionality and Topeka, Kansas repealed their BSL September 28, 2010, citing its ineffectiveness.]
And while Bill Scharffe maintains an isolationist view of Saginaw, Michigan saying he does not care for non-Saginawans’ opinions, he should understand that a dilution or negation of the Constitution in one area of the country leads to the dilution or negation of the Constitution in other areas. Reverend Martin Luther King, jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I could paraphrase Reverend King by saying that a threat to the Constitution anywhere is a threat to the Constitution everywhere. It is no mistake that the very civil rights MLK argued so vehemently for are also the rights we defend when we combat BSL. So yes, Bill Scharffe, the evidence against BSL from those without Saginaw, Michigan who are working to protect the Constitution absolutely matters when you propose to threaten the Constitution from within Saginaw, Michigan. You are aware of the Constitution are you not Bill Scharffe? It’s that thing you swore an oath to uphold when you took the office of councilman. It is not a thing to be disregarded or treated like refuse, nor are its defenders.
It’s interesting too that Bill Scharffe says he will not entertain evidence against BSL from those who are not citizens of Saginaw, Michigan and yet he has obviously been entertaining outside junk science “studies” and/or outside faulty statistics, and God knows who or what other outside influences. I do wonder, does Bill Scharffe care that radical animal rights groups — who are also outside of Michigan and whose main objective appears to be to end domestic animal ownership, including ownership of agricultural animals — push breed-specific legislation? For instance, PETA has been vocal about breed-specific legislation for “pit bulls” and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has also pushed BSL. In fact, in addition to notoriously inaccurate media accounts of dog-bite related fatalities (including erroneous breed identifications), which seldom factor in things like owner abuse, neglect, or other mitigating factors, it was the HSUS’ own database that was used in the CDC “study” in question; the same HSUS that has pushed BSL and whose president said,
“We have no ethical obligation to preserve the different breeds of livestock produced through selective breeding. One generation and out. We have no problem with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding.” — Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society of the United States, Animal People, May, 1993.
Do you own domesticated animals or eat meat Bill Scharffe? I bet the majority of your constituents do. I wonder how they’d feel if they knew that the CDC “study” you relied upon to compose a list of the 10 most supposedly dangerous dog breeds came, in part, from the database of a radical animal rights group who very well may be intent on ending domestic animal ownership.
Adherents — whether witting or unwitting — of radical animal rightists appear to be coached to deride or belittle those opposed to unconstitutional BSL and other animal rights-sponsored legislation. (And no the Bill Scharffe incident isn’t the first time myself and others who oppose BSL have been falsely accused of this, that, and the other, which means that many of these bought-off or brain-washed so-called “representatives,” et al, get their Kool-Aid from the same source.) At the same time, these “representatives” closed-mindedly refuse to entertain an opposing view; you know, a view not based on lies, media hysteria, manipulated statistics, or junk science “studies.”
Bill Scharffe clearly prides himself on being educated and knowledgeable on more than the subject of BSL, and yet for “pit bulls” at least, he seems unable to grasp the concept that “pit bull” is not a breed; that the term “pit bull” is slang and can refer to a myriad of different breeds, their mixes, and lookalikes. So when, for instance, a councilman refers to a “pack of pit bulls” as Saginaw, Michigan Councilman Daniel Fitzpatrick did in this article when referring to the March 2009 “pit bull” attack on Duane E. VanLanHam of Buena Vista Township, what actual breeds is Mr. Fitzpatrick referring to? When Saginaw, Michigan officials name “pit bulls” in their list of 10 supposedly “dangerous” “breeds,” what actual breeds do they propose to restrict? And a pack of “pit bulls”? Really? This doesn’t strike anyone as a free-roaming dog problem rather than a breed problem since a dog of any breed can become dangerous if allowed to free roam? (which is why we have leash laws.) Is the Saginaw, Michigan City Council going to restrict every breed from here on in that bites somebody? And how long do you think it will be before a breed one of the council members owns makes it to the “dangerous” list? (This happened to a Sioux City councilman who pushed very hard for a “pit bull” ban in his city, and lo and behold his own Labrador ended up biting someone and being declared vicious.)
We used to say, as the CDC did, that “pit bull” was a type, but even that went out the window when people started confusing Chihuahuas with “pit bulls”! So what are “pit bulls”? Anything BSL proponents want them to be. Now, knowing that this term “pit bull” can refer to any of a number of breeds, their mixes, and lookalikes, does it not follow that statistics on so-called “pit bulls” would be massively skewed to the point that they are meaningless? And yet there are still some elected officials who will unabashedly cite these CDC statistics as if they were credible! In all fairness to Bill Scharffe, however, I should mention that he probably didn’t read my letter. So perhaps he could understand that “pit bull” is not a breed and that therefore statistics on these dogs, whatever breeds or mixed-breeds they actually are, would be massively skewed and therefore worthless, but he didn’t bother to read my argument thereupon.
Further, Bill Scharffe implies that, because Saginaw, Michigan is only considering restricting 10 breeds and not outright banning them, we should all just yield. This is a weak argument since BSL is no more or less unconstitutional depending on the severity of its strictures. By that I mean that just because Saginaw’s BSL proposal is not an outright ban, it doesn’t mean that breed-specific restrictions for 10 breeds of dog chosen arbitrarily from some junk science “study” are constitutional or will hold up in court.
Bill Scharffe closed his letter by saying that he has, via the “preponderance of evidence,” concluded that there is a need for a breed-specific ordinance in Saginaw, Michigan. A preponderance of evidence consists of “superior evidentiary weight that, though not sufficient to free the mind wholly from all reasonable doubt, is still sufficient to incline a fair and impartial mind to one side of the issue rather than the other.” The thing is, if Bill Scharffe has only looked at one side of the BSL issue and not bothered even to entertain the opposing view, which judging from his letter to me it seems like that is exactly what he is doing, then he hasn’t made a decision on the preponderance of evidence at all. On the contrary, he has seemingly prejudicially only looked at one side of the issue, and appears to have made his determination based on faulty information most likely offered by persons and/or organizations with an agenda. Were Bill Scharffe to have made a decision based on the preponderance of evidence, he would have endeavored to impartially consider both sides, and he has seemingly done the opposite, even going so far as to disregard Saginaw, Michigan citizens’ opinions opposing BSL.
Bill Scharffe has apparently forgotten that he is afforded no more authority than his constituents will allow him to have. After all, today’s councilman is tomorrow’s insurance salesman. So why should voters keep a man in office who defies the will of the people and in the process negates their fundamental constitutional rights? Indeed, Bill Scharffe has clearly forgotten that he represents the people of Saginaw, Michigan; he does not dictate to them. He has also seemingly forgotten the oath he took to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and yet he dares to call us selfish? There is nothing more selfish than an elected official who misuses his position in office to push impotent, unconstitutional legislation in direct defiance of the will of his constituents and in lieu of addressing the real problems his city faces, opting instead to apply a Band-Aid to a gaping wound. And you have to ask yourself, what kind of “doctor” would apply a Band-Aid to a hemorrhage?