Target Practice: Deer, Dogs…and Blacks

Editorial cartoon by Nick Anderson.

A recent news story of a Detroit cop who shot a family dog in its own fenced yard sparked some old, unpleasant memories. Cops are notoriously known for shooting dogs, even friendly ones who’ve done nothing wrong but wag their tails. Over the years, one disturbing account after another of a cop shooting an innocent animal hits the news, each new instance generating outrage that floods social media for a day or two, then fades…only to flare up again when the next canine victim is gunned down. The cops at the center of the moral outrage are rarely, if ever, disciplined.

Police shootings of dogs and other animals happen with such frequency, one is forced to wonder if cops consider all animals as good for only target practice. Indeed, I can recall one especially egregious incident that all but confirms my “animals as target practice” theory:

In 2010, a young deer from the hills above Oakland, California wandered down into the streets of the city. Scared by the traffic and the handful of people who yelled and chased after it, the deer ran until cornered in a resident’s backyard. Two Housing Authority officers who’d taken part in the chase notified animal control and the state Department of Fish and Game, then called police to help contain the deer until a game warden could arrive with a tranquilizer gun. By the time the Oakland Police arrived, several neighbors had gathered, including many children who fondly nicknamed the male yearling “Bambi.” One neighbor began recording the plight of the young deer who was, by now, trapped in a corner, pressed against a fence and trembling with fear. Then, the unthinkable happened:

Oakland police Sgt. Terrance West ordered another officer to kill the deer. The officer, whose name was not released, fired several shots, but the deer did not die immediately, so he fired several more shots, Weems said. A total of six or seven shots were fired but it was not known how many hit the deer.

Henry K. Lee, SFGate.com, May 5, 2010

Police lamely defended their inhumane actions, stating the deer posed a threat. But all who witnessed the murder, those at the scene and the millions who watched what amounted to a ‘snuff’ video, all agreed the frightened animal posed no threat whatsoever — he was too terrified to even move.

Wild animals like “Bambi” have no voice nor value to ‘lesser’ humans, and domesticated pets are considered ‘property’ by most states’ laws; the lives of animals are thus inconsequential to law enforcement. Many cops bear a callous disregard for the life of an animal; killing a defenseless, innocent animal is an easy, thoughtless act for them. More evolved humans, on the other hand, acknowledge animals as sentient beings and understand that animals have the same capacity for fear, pain, and suffering as do their human counterparts. While most states these days might prosecute civilians for acts of animal abuse or cruelty, police officers are completely immune from such accountability. Even officers who negligently leave their K-9 police partners in a hot car to die a horrendous death aren’t held accountable.

There is a glaring disconnect in the brains of cops who disregard the lives of animals so wantonly. I can only compare their mentality to that of toddlers who operate primarily off impulse and emotion because their primal brains haven’t yet developed enough to know of such things as empathy and compassion, or to yet have the capacity to value life beyond their own.

We can easily recognize this same infantile mentality in self-absorbed adults who possess a stunted emotional maturity: narcissists, sociopaths, soldiers who commit unspeakable war crimes, political tyrants who callously murder anyone who opposes them, or who order men to tear crying babies from their mothers’ arms and lock those babies up in cages. Likewise, we see this emotional maladaptation in the followers and right-hand sycophants of these tyrants — such people are poised and primed for the kind of conditioning that allows them to easily and eagerly hate, attack, or murder any being whom they perceive to be different from themselves. In their immature minds, ‘different’ equates to ‘bad,’ and anything or anyone who is ‘bad’ poses a threat and instills fear.

In the past four years in the U.S., we’ve seen that it doesn’t take much to condition people into viewing the world through the lens of an ‘us against them’ mentality — hateful memes shared on social media, repetitive use of derogatory words used to describe certain minority classes, failure to condemn or even acknowledge egregious hate crimes, tacit approval of right-wing domestic terrorist groups. The consequences of this subtle-though-insidious form of conditioning has been devastating for American society, dividing our nation into two disparate halves, resulting in civil unrest, protests lasting months on end, and the formation of self-proclaimed citizen militias — armed vigilantes who’ve been emboldened by a despotic political body that looks the other way when its followers mow people down in the streets with their cars and fire AR-15s at those they view as ‘them,’ i.e., people who hold opposing viewpoints or dare to exercise their constitutional right to protest.

Now, imagine a form of conditioning that is not so subtle, but is direct, focused, and intentional: Basic training for soldiers. Training academies for police officers. In both cases, men and women eat, sleep, and train to become bearers of deadly authority. Armed with lethal weapons, taught lethal body maneuvers, told over and over again, day in day out, “it’s either them or you.”

In the case of the U.S. military, ‘them’ is a well-defined enemy — Nazis, the Viet Cong, the Taliban. But, oftentimes, soldiers expand their definition of ‘them’ to include the innocent men, women, and children they encounter during war, as happened in the My Lai massacre of unarmed civilians during the Vietnam conflict, or the numerous accounts of U.S. soldiers raping and murdering women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because these soldiers saw those unarmed civilians as different — different eye shape, skin color, language, religious beliefs — those people, too became the enemy and, as enemies, became targets for the soldiers’ deadly aggression.

The “us against them” conditioning soldiers receive in basic training makes it easier for them to dismiss the humanity of the innocent civilians they kill, just as law enforcement training in police academies condition ‘peace’ officers to dismiss the humanity of the people they kill — people they, ironically, are supposed to serve and protect. Police recruits are trained to shoot first and ask questions later. They are conditioned to shoot to kill the instant they see, perceive, or even imagine, a threat of any kind, be that threat a real weapon — a gun, a knife, a hammer — or a perceived weapon — a bulge in a subject’s pocket, a glint of metal under a car seat — or any threat fearfully imagined through the eyes of a cop whose emotional maturity is stunted, whether by genetics, lack of education, or some form of desensitizing conditioning.

To cops, animals are the ultimate ‘them.’ Being of another species is as different as it gets. Because many cops see certain races of people as ‘them’ suggests these same cops consider those races to be subhuman…no better than animals.

On August 23, 2020, two headlines came across my feed:

  1. Detroit cop fatally shoots fenced-in dog in its own yard, disturbing video shows
  2. ‘Brutally Killed’: Outrage Grows Over Police Killing of Trayford Pellerin as He Walked Away

The first headline describes an event that occurred on August 3, 2020: “A Detroit cop fatally shot a dog on (sic) its own fenced yard as it clashed with a K9 through the fence…”

The second headline describes an event that occurred on August 21, 2020: “…a 31-year-old Black man was killed by Lafayette, Louisiana police in a hail of gunfire as he was walking away.”

On the same day those headlines came across my feed, another Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot seven times in the back by Rusten Sheskey, a Kenosha, Wisconsin police officer. In a news article published in the aftermath of Jacob Blake’s near-fatal shooting, Jacob’s father was quoted as saying:

“Those police officers that shot my son like a dog in the street are responsible for everything that has happened in the city of Kenosha,” his father said. “My son is not responsible for it. My son didn’t have a weapon. He didn’t have a gun.”

Clare Proctor, Chicago.Suntimes.com, August 25, 2020

“Like a dog in the street.” Like a family pet contained in its own fenced yard. Like a baby deer trapped and cornered.

Jacob Blake’s father hit the nail on the head. Just as police use defenseless animals for target practice, so, too, do they use Black citizens. To a growing number of police officers, Blacks are them. Different. Bad. What it all comes down to is this: Many cops possess an irrational fear of Blacks and reflexively view them as a threat. And the only way cops know how to deal with a threat, real or imagined, is to whip out their gun and shoot it: A friendly dog. A trembling deer. A sleeping Black woman. An unarmed Black man.

I remember, back in the early eighties when I was a Com Op with the Phoenix PD how disturbingly often Black men were shot in the back, usually by lazy cops or detectives who couldn’t be bothered with a foot chase. Easier just to raise your service weapon and fire away, dispatching their target with the same indifference as if they were shooting a tin can off a tree stump. The cops on the force would joke about it afterward: “Say, did you hear about Detective Jones up in Burglary? He shot another n***** … in the back! Ha-ha-ha!”

This kind of wanton disregard for the lives of anything or anyone deemed ‘different’ is still ingrained in too many police officers, even after decades of public outrage. And the most infuriating aspect of this longstanding police brutality is that the problem is escalating, in spite of the continuing protests and demands for police accountability and reform. This disturbing trend in racially-motivated police shootings shouldn’t surprise anyone, however, considering the rising number of white supremacists within the ranks of U.S. law enforcement.

White supremacist groups have infiltrated US law enforcement agencies in every region of the country over the last two decades, according to a new report about the ties between police and far-right vigilante groups.

In a timely new analysis, Michael German, a former FBI special agent who has written extensively on the ways that US law enforcement have failed to respond to far-right domestic terror threats, concludes that US law enforcement officials have been tied to racist militant activities in more than a dozen states since 2000, and hundreds of police officers have been caught posting racist and bigoted social media content.

Sam Levin, TheGuardian.com, August 27, 2020

At the heart of white supremacy is the belief that Blacks aren’t human, in the same way game hunters believe animals aren’t sentient. To white supremacists, Blacks are inferior, sub-human, animals — good for nothing more than target practice, or worse, hunted for sport.

Until we stop the rise of white supremacists infiltrating police ranks and root out the racists already lurking within …

Until we completely redesign the curricula of police academies and disempower police unions …

Until we fill both the rank and file of police departments with men and women who are educated, compassionate, psychologically sound, and emotionally mature …

Until we dismantle the police departments and rebuild them from the ground up …

Until “us against them” becomes “all of us, united” …

Nothing will change, and the day will come when all people who oppose the indiscriminate and disproportionately-high killing of Black citizens will have targets on their backs, regardless of the color of their skin. When this manifests, we can expect another American Civil War, a bloody uprising sparked by an army of racist, ‘Blue Lives Matter’ vigilantes who will rise unchallenged, vowing to violently defend their right to oppress and abuse anyone who stands against their special brand of evil.

That new civil war is nigh, brewing among those emotionally- and intellectually-stunted followers of our illegitimate, despotic leader, Donald Trump. For some of those followers, encouraged and excused by Trump, himself, the war has already begun:

Kyle Rittenhouse used an AR-15-style rifle to shoot and kill BLM protesters Joseph Rosenbaum, 36 (left), and Anthony Huber, 26 (right), and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 26 (not shown). Seventeen-year-old Rittenhouse, along with several other self-proclaimed armed militia members, had been welcomed and thanked by the Kenosha Police for their support and presence. After Rittenhouse shot three protesters, Kenosha Police allowed the gunman to leave the scene and flee the state. Rittenhouse was later arrested by Illinois authorities and charged with first-degree intentional homicide along with five other felony charges.

Blue Wall of Silence

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