Readers Write: What Have We Learned from the Vick Case?
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The Michael Vick case triggered a vigorous debate within the U.S. progressive movement that could be seen unfolding here on AlterNet. In the controversy we saw a confluence of race, animal rights, masculinity, and questions of fairness and due process -- elements amplified by million-dollar contracts and intense mainstream media coverage.
These varied factors prompted different takes on how to conceptualize the Vick case, most notably in Sandra Kobrin's "Beat a Woman? Play On! Beat a Dog? You're Gone" and Earl Ofari Hutchinson's column, "The Crucifixion of Michael Vick." These commentaries then caused varied reactions from readers either rejecting the perspectives given, applauding them, or offering their own.
A general response to Kobrin's article was that the comparison -- specifically between how men convicted of spousal abuse are treated and Vick -- was, on its face, invalid. A reader writing under the handle, EKSwitaj called it a "false dichotomy" arguing that people "don't have to choose between anger [sic] about the torture of animals and the mistreatment of women" and that we "should be outraged [sic] when any living being is made to feel unnecessary pain."
PopRox80 went further, stating, "I've yet to hear a convincing argument as to why one human's life is more important than all the plants and animals and insects of this world. All things are equal, and should be treated as such." Poster vasumurti said, "The article is speciesist." At the heart of such arguments is the question, "Are animals equal?" -- in that, should they be accorded rights within the framework created for humans?
Reacting to Hutchinson's comparisons to a lack of anger on issues like Darfur, posters like bg41 said those issues distracted from the one at hand. "Genocide and wars are obviously among the most despicable legacies of humankind. No one here debates that," said bg41. "But pointing to the most horrible things in the world and then saying that what Michael Vick is accused of pales in comparison is just stupid. You can downplay the importance of ANY crime by doing that, but you've accomplished nothing of substance."
Others, like goeswithness, felt that drawing a parallel between women's rights and animal rights was inconsistent because, "A dog has absolutely no choice in how it's [sic] raised and who its owner is. Women do have that choice, at the outset anyhow." Doodahman chimed in, "Women are awesome, but dogs are perfect."
More learned readers preferred to draw a connection between feminism and animal rights, saying that we need to think of the way in which we treat living beings generally. Beatlefancb said:
Animal abuse and violence against people are directly linked. Animal abuse is considered to be one of the leading indicators of violent criminal behavior.
A study of battered women in Utah found that 71% reported that their animals had been threatened, harmed, or killed by their abusers.
Violence against animals desensitizes people to violence in general. This facilitates violence against people.
Many responses charged that outraged individuals were hypocrites by treating dogs differently from other animals. Cinattra wrote:
Yeah, we don't eat dogs, but other cultures do ... We hunt for sport stacking the cards against the animals by using high powered scopes and other tricks to make killing them convenient."
There is a cultural arrogance about America that is hypocrisy filled and leads it to distort some moral and ethical issues and to totally treat others less seriously or not treat them at all.
In a similar vein, cheressemm gives the example:
You can teach a pig to fetch a newspaper, and we still treat animals horribly in our current food-supply system," telling readers to "look up factory farming on YouTube, go to farmsanctuary.org [sic], and read up about sow gestation crates and current slaughterhouse practices, which are dangerous to the humans who work there (the most dangerous job in the U.S.) -- mostly illegal immigrants -- and horrendously cruel to the animals that are killed by the thousands upon the hour ... read about pigs that are not even stunned properly [sic] before being dunked in vats of boiling water ... and then tell me that you don't see the hypocrisy of which this article speaks when it comes to how much we supposedly love animals and don't want to see them abused.
Other posters like Bambi maintained that there was a difference. "Eating meat and taking responsibility for where that meat comes from has nothing to do with animal abuse and cruelty; it's ridiculous and shows a lack of awareness and intelligence to make a connection between the two."
As Kobrin drew a comparison between abuse of women, others readers wanted to take a racial lens, arguing that abusers of similar crimes are treated differently because of racial differences. The reader sspsllc wrote:
No they didn't "go after" Vick because of his race -- Vick brought that on himself because of making dumb-butt choices; however, it was the way the situation was handled BEFORE the man even had his day in court that was a highly racist form of lynching as compared to other acts of the exact same nature committed by whites.
For example, none of the racist and derogatory comments lodged against Vick have been lodged against Floyd Boudreaux of New Orleans, the noted "Kingpin" and "don" of the underground dogfighting world who controls at least 80-85% of the dogfighting gambling commerce across the nation. As a matter of fact, no one in this country is even talking about Boudreaux and his son Guy, period.
That has not been the law before now, why is it being changed (as legal precedent goes) especially for Vick? I don't say he shouldn't be punished, I say he should receive the same punishment as those whites who have gone before him. If it was a misdemeanor then, why does it change to a felony that has been outstanding in court for years until eight days after he was indicted? And even where it was carried out as a felony charge, the masterminds still got slapped on the hand, fined and sent home. No one's life or livelihood was taken away over it ever in the history of this nation, not even the "dogfighting don of Louisiana," whose case, eerily enough, I can't find a final disposition on though he was arrested more than two years ago.
Who is blind and can't see the racism and irony in this?
Responder hagwind takes an intersectional look at race and gender asking, "How black, brown, or anything but white is PETA anyway? Is it possible, just possible, that some people (may but not all of them white) out there see woman abuse as part of the black male character but animal abuse as a violation of the color line? IOW, dogs are under the protection of white people, so Michael Vick was not only cruel to animals, he also usurped a white prerogative." The poster, staleman scoffs, "Next time Vick should shoot some other black men, seems that's o.k. for anybody."
Other readers outright rejected a racial analysis. "I find this immediate need to classify the Vick case as one hinging on race beyond stupid. He is accused of committing a crime of heinous cruelty, a CRIME, which means that anyone doing it would be in trouble," writes bg41. "Well, since Vick's black and blacks have historically (and equally heinously) been discriminated against, let's make it about that!"
Many writers like reidhaus, WitchyNy, cmcclain, and others called Vick and other athletes, "thugs" almost resorting to the sort of attacks that people like DivaMJB found frightening. "Many of you aren't calling for the 'hanging' of Ms. Boddies son (that's Mike's mama), but I've been to far too many MSM sites that are. Do you know what calling for the 'hanging' of a black man in the south means?!?!?!? I've been distraught and disgusted ... I find the general tenor of comments on leftist and progressive sites that have posts/articles about this to be full of the deepest and hardest to abort tenets of American capitalism, American racism, and American moral hypocrisy. None of us are exempt."
On the effect of Vick's case on the black psyche, mobile68 laments how celebrities like Vick, "tend to forget that while they have not been officially appointed the 'role model' of black America, it is their status and having been born black in this racist society that unfortunately had this 'burden' placed upon them." The writer adds, "The power dynamics that exist in this country at any given time may render us niggers. The problems that you are facing may or may not be of your doing, but it is up to you to find a solution."
Finally other writers argued that we should be focusing more on the mainstream media coverage and the rights to due process. Helenwheels asks about the MSM, "What do they have BLASTED across TV screens ad nauseum? The Vick thing. The Lohan thing. The Hilton thing. Would there be more outrage about Darfur and Iraq if people actually could SEE it? You bet there would!"
TheLimit asked other readers if they haven't missed entirely the importance of the case:
It doesn't seem to occur to anyone posting here that the point isn't that dog fighting is cruel and abusive. The point is that Vick has been denied due process, and that should alarm ALL of you.
The passionate insistence so many writers exhibited, that the Vick case must, in fact, be understood through a singular framework -- be it "rights," race, celebrity, patriarchy, or fairness under the law -- suggests at the very least that each speaks to a certain shard of American politics. And perhaps it is only by putting them together that we will able to have a better portrait of the stakes and stakeholders in this controversy.