An Open Letter to R.L. White, President of the Atlanta NAACPPosted by Joyce Tischler, ALDF's Founder and General Counsel on August 24th, 2007
Dear Mr. White,
I have long admired the NAACP as an organization that fights for those who are the victims of oppression and discrimination. As a teen growing up in the tumultuous 1960s, I looked to the NAACP as a beacon of hope in a world filled with prejudice, violence and injustice. Animal Legal Defense Fund, the organization I founded, is built on the principles that Dr. King spoke of so eloquently when he envisioned “all of God’s children” joining hands in freedom. Those of us who work to protect animals realize that there will never be a “final frontier” of those who desperately need our compassion. In the ongoing effort to create a world that respects all of its members, those of us who work for defenseless animals are working at the roots.
To witness your representing the NAACP and defending Michael Vick is a betrayal of the trust that so many of us have placed in your organization. Perhaps naively, I’ve believed that people who have experienced oppression would learn from that to oppose the oppression of all others, not just those in their racial or ethnic group.
But, your active embrace of Vick appears to be a classic case of the good old boys circling the wagons to protect one of their own, regardless of what he has done. You stated that Michael Vick is being persecuted and treated worse than if he had killed a human. In other words, you are saying that since Vick was involved merely in dogfighting, what is all the fuss about? Since you don’t seem to know the answer, let me explain: dogfighting is a barbaric practice that has no place in a civilized society. It involves forcing animals to violently inflict bodily injury upon each other until one of the two fighters dies. The training of the dogs is brutal. In addition to the harm to the animals, which didn’t seem to faze you, there is also the gambling and rampant sale and use of drugs. Investigators report that children are often brought to these events. Because of the violence, the drugs and the gambling that are all endemic to dogfighting, it is a crime in all 50 states, a felony in 48 states and a violation of federal law.
Michael Vick is not some uneducated, unemployed adult who cannot afford an attorney and was pressured into signing a false confession. He attended college at Virginia Tech, and has become one of the highest paid sports players in history, with a $130 million dollar contract. He’s an intelligent man who has made choices, all along the way. He made the choice to be heavily involved with dogfighting, to cruelly abuse, torture and kill dogs, and to become involved in gambling, another crime. Each and every time he participated in a dog fight, he made the choice to violate state and federal laws. That he now faces difficult and uncomfortable choices, such as whether or not to plead guilty, is the price he must pay. For the NAACP to call that persecution, because Vick happens to be African American, is nothing short of a bald, two-faced lie.
Further, you stated that just because Vick pleads guilty doesn’t mean he committed the crime. To the contrary, sir; if he pleads “guilty,” that is exactly what it means. He will have to sign a written statement, in open court, that he committed the acts constituting the crime. A judge will have to make a factual finding that Vick understands that he is admitting his guilt and that Vick’s admitted conduct constitutes an actual violation of the charged crime.
A lesson that I learned in the 60s, and that I apply to our work every day, is that our worst enemy is the mindset that we can use, exploit and abuse others, because they are unlike us, less than us. As soon as we separate ourselves from “them,” whoever “they” are, we can justify doing wretched, horrible things to others. The examples abound: the KKK lynchings, the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, the current human rights crisis in Darfur…
For me, that lesson applies not only to humans, but to all who have the capacity to suffer: the dog who is set on fire by a gang of teenagers, the pig confined for life in a crate so small that all she can do is stand or lie down, the deer, racing for her life from the barrel of a high powered rifle. The best in humankind, the very best, comes out when we see ourselves in others and others in ourselves. Thou in me. I look into the eyes of a dog, or a chimpanzee, or a child in a displaced persons camp in Darfur and I see some one—an individual, with a life force and an intelligence—looking back at me.
Those of us who have lived with or spent time around pit bulls, can attest to the fact that, when they are in a loving home, they are delightful, playful, charming dogs. They like to go on walks, run in their back yards and do all the things that other dogs enjoy doing. They are faithful and devoted companions. They would never choose the kind of painful, ugly existence that Michael Vick and other dogfighters force them into.
It is disheartening to me that you and other NAACP officials urge us to offer Michael Vick our compassion, but the nameless, faceless dogs he abused and killed simply don’t matter; the suffering that he inflicted upon them is unimportant. I’d like to offer you the second chance that you ask me to offer Michael Vick. Look into the eyes of those dogs, battered and scarred through years of brutality, and tell me what you see.
Wishing you peace and perhaps, a deeper insight,
Animal Legal Defense Fund