Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pit Bulls, Sex Offenders, and stereotyping

I am not a fan of pit bulls. Personally, I think they are ugly as sin with fat, bloated heads with floppy mouths and slobber (the demon dog from "Turner and Hooch" immediately comes to mind). My fiancee thinks they are adorable. I'm not really a dog person, come to think of it.

A few months ago, my fiancee and I were walking around the neighborhood on a lazy Sunday afternoon when this stray dog came up to us and started sniffing us. It looked like a pit bull. I was one of those people who believed the media hype about vicious pit bulls, so I was on guard. The dog was very friendly, however, and followed us like the lost puppy it was. It eventually followed us home, and after some tearful pleas for the dog's life (as shelters routinely euthanize Pit Bulls), my fiancee talked me into letting her keep the stray.

The stray turned out to be a "Rhodesian Ridgeback." They are related to bulldogs such as Bull Mastiffs by breed, so it could be rather easily confused for a Pit Bull. So now I'm the reluctant "co-owner" of an energetic, bone-chewing, poo-and-grass eating, hole digging bag of fleas that is scared of kittens. The dog is far from vicious. Rhodesian Ridgebacks were bred for chasing lions, but this particular dog is more cowardly lion than lion chaser. It reminded me how little I knew about Pit Bulls or dogs in general.

People stereotype everything. If I say a group of anything, such as "pit bulls," we conjure up a particular image. Many people, when asked to imagine a pit bull, will conjure up an image of a vicious dog that kills cats or people, is vicious, and has "locking jaws." I was one of those people. I just accepted news media accounts and my own fear of the dogs as absolute fact. Only when I thought I was on the verge of having to share part of my life with one of those "vicious dogs" did I really research the breed.

The first information I found was a website called There is a wealth of information at that site that breaks down the stereotypes surrounding the breed. The site refers to,  a site that tests various breeds for certain traits that make dogs less-than-ideal pets, like unprovoked aggression, strong avoidance, and panic without recovery. The more dogs than show one of these traits, the lower the score. Below are the numbers of a few select breeds:

American Pit Bull Terriers: 86%
German Shepherd: 84.2%
Collie: 79.7%
Miniature Poodle: 77.9%
Chihuahua: 71.1%

As an aside, my Rhodesian Ridgeback scored a 84.4%. My fiancee's mother owns a chihuahua. She's quite a vicious little nipper, and I've been bitten by the little runt. Which dog is the more dangerous dog? [To see a really good video on the Pit Bull CLICK HERE]

Don Mattingly Cover - Sports Illustrated July 27, 1987
Thanks in part to selective breeding, the Pit Bull is a very people oriented dog. In fact, at one time they were also known as "nanny dogs" because of their people-friendliness. However, it is also thanks to people that Pit Bulls have a very bad reputation. Many people are scared of Pit Bulls. Pit Bulls gained their reputation because they are powerful and tenacious dogs, making them perfect for pit fighting (hence the name). According to the site, the current state of Pit Bull Panic stemmed from a 1987 Sports Illustrated article on Pit Bull fighting. The 1987 cover was indeed a very powerful image depicting the dog in the most negative light. It is an image not easily shaken, and fits perfectly the "dangerous Pit Bull" stereotype. Sports Illustrated has admitted their 1987 cover played a major role in the hysteria surrounding Pit Bulls. As an act of penance, Sports Illustrated ran a more recent article following the success stories of the animals rescued from Michael Vick's dog fighting ring.

Destroying stereotypes embedded in our culture is no easy task. A recent article landed on CBS news, entitled "Pitbull Kills 2-Year-Old Boy in California: Recent String of Attacks Renewed Calls for Regulations on Dangerous Breed." The article lists a total of two attacks, on that killed a 2-year-old boy in California, and one that killed an elderly man in Memphis (the dog's owner is a registered sex offender). Apparently it does not take many incidents to declare an epidemic, especially when a child is involved. The article also highlights the city of Worchester, MA, and the typical knee jerk reaction to news stories. The city is looking to pass restrictions on Pit Bull owners, including muzzling the pets and placing warning signs on the properties of owners after dog bite reports. Other cities, like Minneapolis, MN, Seminole Co., FL, and Sarasota Co., FL all have public "dangerous dog" registries, complete with mapping software (Ironically, upon actually viewing these registries, there are a lot of non-Pit Bull type breeds on this list). They look a lot like the public sex offender registries run by the same sheriff's websites. Some cities have outright bans, including Miami, FL, Denver, CO., and Cincinnati, OH (as a former Cincinnatian, I can assure you they do not enforce the ban).These actions are referred to as "Breed Specific Legislation" or BSL.

Fueling BSL is a lot of inflated statistics and fear mongering. One of the Worchester city councilmen went on record stating while the Pit Bulls make up 2% of the population of licensed dogs on the city, they are accountable for 25% of dog bite reports. That comment mirrors the statistic mentioned in the 1987 Sports Illustrated article-- 12 of the 18 fatal dog bites in the 18 months prior to the 1987 article were from Pit Bulls, though they make up only 1% of the US dog population. I'm admittedly not an exprt in the field, but I have enough common sense to know that many individuals keep large, powerful dogs like Put Bulls, German Shepards, Rottweilers, and Dobermans for protection. Even many police departments have canine units and killing a police dog can carry as bad a penalty as killing a human officer.

In a heavily-criticised Miami Herald article on using Pit Bulls as service dogs, Broward County resident Larry Steinhauser states, "I've never seen one that isn't aggressive. I think they're a danger to society."

Pit Bulls are ALL dangerous, cannot be cured, the stereotypes, the inflated "OMG" epidemic statistics, the blanket bans, the targeted legislation, and the public registries, the outcries for more laws to protect our children from these vicious predators.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

I was in the dark about Pit Bulls until I decided to research the facts. I eventually learned everything I believed about them was a lie. How many people have changed their opinions about American sex offender laws after they were targeted by the very laws they blindly supported? How many have read both of the story? How many have researched the facts?

Education is sorely needed to separate fact from fiction. We are indeed fighting an uphill battle. Many current laws were passed out of fear, loathing, and blind ignorance. It will take tanacity, persistence, and the ability to grasp the truth and never let go. Not all Pit Bulls fit the sterotype. Not all sex offenders fit the stereotype. The best example we can lead is in our own lives. Educate one person at a time. Live your live above the stereotype and do not believe the hype.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The greatest "enemy" in our fight -- APATHY

Who is the greatest "enemy" in the fight against these crazy sex offender laws? Pandering Politicians pimping the nlatest ill-conceived laws? Celebrity advocates like John Walsh? Camera-hogging media news analysts? Self-made vigilantes and vigilante groups like Perverted Justice? No.

The greatest "enemy" in our fight is APATHY.

The old adage "we are our own worst enemies" rings very true in this fight. I have been involved in this fight for about seven years, and has been up for years, and in this time, I have received many emails from people seemingly desperate for help, get their answers, thank me, and disappear. I feel a lot alike I'm in that movie "300." I am one of just a handful of people, many of whom have been in this fight for years. We fight for a "nation" of 700,000 people plus their families, every one of them threatened by a larger army backed by tough laws and blind support. Our resources are few, our warriors are fewer. Much like in the movie, this small band of warriors are fighting for the sake of their homes, while the rest sit back and watch us fight to the death.

I can understand the concerns of those affected by these laws. I fear for my safety. I worry how this will impact my fiancee's life. I worry how each high profile case in the media will ultimately impact my personal life. However, it is exactly for these reasons I have decided to fight.

Unlike the soldiers in "300," I am not wanting to die fighting. I'm not trying to be a martyr to the cause. My desire is to live. However, I cannot live my life under this fear for the rest of my life, because living this life the way I'm forced to live is not truly "living" at all. I fight for myself, yet, by fighting for others, I achieve not only great things for them, I achieve great things for myself as well. We all want to live. If we all want to live, we should all want to fight.

If you think you won't be targeted because you obey every law and submit to every whim of the people, you're sadly mistaken. For two years following my release, I kept to myself. I battled umemployment and homelessness until I found a minimum wage job and a sleeping room in the "hood." It was not what I wanted but it was life and I made the most of it. I started making small contributions where I could to society, donating money and supplies to those less fortunate. Two years later, the state reclassified me arbitrarily, and determined I now lived too close to a GED school (a place pre-approved by the sheriff's office). I lost my job and my girlfriend, and eventually my tiny sleeping room. After I moved to another place meeting the residency law requirements, the city I lived in decided they were going to pass an ordinance increasing residency restrictions. I had enough.

It can happen just as easily to every one of you.

Over the past few years, federal, state, and local officials have targeted registrants on a regular basis. Below are just a few of the ways sex offenders have been targeted over the years (some may or may not apply to you today, but it is only a matter of time):

  1. Public Registries
  2. Community notification
  3. Residency restrictions
  4. Anti-loitering laws/ complete bans from certain places like parks, amusement parks, playgrounds, school functions, certain eating establishments, churches
  5. Civil commitment laws
  6. Mandatory minimum sentences and registration time increases
  7. Barred from getting certain jobs/ cannot work too close to restricted areas
  8. Barred from living around other sex offenders (anti-clustering laws)
  9. Barred from living in a household with minors present
  10. Barred from many internet sites like MySpace or Facebook for any reason, or from the internet altogether
  11. Fees for registering
  12. Cannot wear costumes/ masks/ give out Halloween candy
  13. Cannot obtain emergency shelter during hurricanes/ blizzards/ other inclement weather
  14. Scarlet letter license plates
  15. Scarlet letter ID cards
  16. Random "compliance checks" by the police working with US Marshals, then threaten you under duress to agree to warrantless searches
  17. Barred from Section 8 Housing
  18. Proposed: barred from obtaining small business loans
  19. Proposed: Denied Unemployment Benefits
  20. Proposed: Denied Federal Housing Authority Loans (FHA)
  21. Chemical castration, polygraphs, "peter readers" (plethysmographs) and other witch-doctor science
  22. Periodic changes to any of the aforementioned laws
  23. Assumption of guilt in all your actions
  24. Constant threat of vigilantism; vigilante attacks are rarely severely punished
  25. Promotion of fear and loathing makes you more likely to face discrimination based upon status alone
Many of these laws have been passed without a single thought to the consequences.

This is not about promoting websites, selling books, or collecting donations. This is about taking a stand and fighting back. This small group, this "300" has done great things-- awareness has been raised, laws have been defeated, and hope has been brought to thousands impacted by these laws. To paraphrase the movie, If we could achieve so many things with "300" Spartans, imagine what an army of "10,000" Spartans can do!

Don't sit still thinking someone else is going to fight for you. Chances are, the person you are waiting for is likely doing the same.

ADDENDUM: Let me just reiterate one thing. Fear is indeed a strong reason not to fight, but I see apathy as being as great, if not greater, than fear. There is an old adage about 20% of the people doing 80% of the work. We have LESS than 20% in this movement. Based on what I have seen, very small numbers are willing to do tasks like sign an online petition, post on a message board, or participate in online groups and forums. I'm not surprised to see the same screen names when I post a comment in Boston, Portland, or Houston. I'd like to see them flooded with new faces speaking out.

On my front page are a few suggestions on how to get active: