Police Use of Dogs as Instruments of Violence Targets People of Color

by Vins

An investigation conducted by several independent news outlets and coordinated by The Marshall Project lays bare mounting evidence of extensive and disproportionate police dog use against people of color across America.  “It felt like I was being eaten,” recounts Joseph Malott, a Black 22-year-old student mauled by a police dog moments after deflecting a teargas canister, away from himself and allegedly toward officers, in June 2020 during a Black Lives Matter protest in California. Later that night, Malott became one of approximately 3,600 Americans per year sent to the emergency room for severe bite injuries sustained during altercations with police K-9s. Although men and women of just about every age and color in all fifty states have been subject to violent K-9 incidents, a series of linked reports entitled “Mauled” produced by five independent outlets–The Marshall Project, The Advocate, AL.com, IndyStar, and the Invisible Institute–suggests Black men have been inordinately affected.

According to the latest in a series of articles published on The Marshall Project’s website, the rate of police K-9 bites in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a majority-Black city of 220,000, averages more than double that of the next-ranked city (Indianapolis) and of those bites nearly a third are inflicted on teenage men, most of whom are Black. As it stands, Baton Rouge’s police dogs bite their city’s teenagers, ages thirteen to seventeen, “once every three weeks, on average,” according to the city’s Police Department data.

In a February 12, 2021 release, Marshall Project journalists Bryn Stole and Grace Toohe recount the stories of two Black teens, neither suspected of violent or serious crimes, who were hunted and mauled by Baton Rouge K-9s in June and October of 2019 after attempting to run or bike away from officers.  Lester “Smith” and Charles Carey, ages 14 and 17 when attacked, will grow up with physical and mental scars from these traumas, canine injuries which medical researchers quoted in an earlier 2020 release describe generally as “more like shark attacks than nips from a family pet” due to aggressive training. BRPD K-9 policy offers nonspecific leeway with release of dogs “based on the severity of the crime, [and whether] the suspect poses an immediate threat” in the officer’s eyes.

As the “Mauled” report noted, “Police dogs have a highly charged history in the United States, especially in the South, where they were used against enslaved people and, in the 1960s, civil rights protesters.”

Though recent corporate media coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement has raised public awareness of police using disproportionate force against people of color, K-9 violence has received strikingly little public attention from the corporate media.  One would expect dramatic stories involving sensational details including what Ashley Remkus of The Marshall Project describes as “a woman’s scalp… torn in California; a man’s vocal cords… damaged in Colorado; an Arizona man’s face… ripped off” to garner more coverage.  Thus it is astounding that only four of America’s preeminent corporate news sources have reported on this issue: NBC news, local Los Angeles and Baton Rouge ABC affiliates, The Washington Post, and a local NPR station.  NBC’s one piece of coverage told the story of a Black man from Salt Lake City, UT who lost his arm to a K-9 unit after being caught on tape surrendering, with his hands up, in August of 2020.  ABC7 Los Angeles released a single, though more comprehensive 1200-word piece December 2021 presenting troubling evidence that police dog violence frequently affects non-combative suspects. When the local ABC Baton Rouge outlet ultimately chose to run a short piece February 12, 2021, they simply reported on the BRPD’s decision to begin revising its police dog policies and, unlike ABC Los Angeles,  this time crediting The Advocate and The Marshall Project.

The only recurrent national coverage has come from the Washington Post, which has published five articles covering instances of K-9 violence from around the country, four of them in the last year. Most recently, NPR Baton Rouge introduced a new “Louisiana Considered” podcast late February during which hosts took a moment for the subject, though was hardly far-reaching enough to amount to sufficient coverage for such an issue.

Sources:

Bryn Stole and Grace Toohe, “The City Where Police Unleash Dogs On Black Teens,” The Marshall Project, February 12, 2021, https://www.themarshallproject.org/2021/02/12/the-city-where-police-unleash-dogs-on-black-teens.

Abbie VanSickle and Challen Stephens, “Police Use Painful Dog Bites To Make People Obey,” The Marshall Project, December 14, 2020, https://www.themarshallproject.org/2020/12/14/police-use-painful-dog-bites-to-make-people-obey.

Abbie VanSickle, Challen Stephens, Ryan Martin, Dana Brozost-Kelleher, and Andrew Fan, “When Police Violence is a Dog Bite,” The Marshall Project, October 2, 2020, https://www.themarshallproject.org/2020/10/02/when-police-violence-is-a-dog-bite.

Ashley Remkus, “ We Spent A Year Investigating Police Dogs. Here Are Six Takeaways,” The Marshall Project, October 2, 2020, https://www.themarshallproject.org/2020/10/02/we-spent-a-year-investigating-police-dogs-here-are-six-takeaways.

Student Researcher: Ian M. Williams (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)

Review Article with Credder

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