Prof adds depth & detail to history of dogs & race relations you first read here
“Examining the history of canine violence in European and Euro-American colonialism is not an easy task,” observes Tyler D. Parry early in “Man’s Best Fiend,” appearing in the newly published December 2016 edition of History Today.
Found same facts we did––& more
Parry, an assistant professor of African American Studies at California State University, Fullerton, was unaware of ANIMALS 24-7, our sub-menu Bad dogs & minority communities, and the subhead, From conquistadores, slavers, & the Ku Klux Klan to gang-bangers & security guards for Dakota Access, when he wrote “Man’s Best Fiend,” thoroughly covering many of the same events, mostly from original historical sources.
Beginning with the use of dogs to attack Dakota Access pipeline protesters, detailed in three ANIMALS 24-7 articles in September 2016, Parry recalls––as we did––the similar use of dogs by law enforcement agencies trying to uphold racial segregation in Alabama in 1963.
“Ingrained in the fabric”
“The use of dogs in this way is ingrained in the fabric of European and Euro-American colonial settler mentality,” continues Parry.
“Because of their propensity to be fiercely loyal, certain dogs have been bred and trained with the specific intention of racially subjugating those non-white populations that resisted imperial expansion,” Parry recounts. “Dogs sailed with Iberian colonists,” as early as the first Spanish attempts to establish a permanent presence in the Americas, “and were used to track, subdue and sometimes kill indigenous peoples.
“According to Bartolomé de las Casas, a Spanish priest who was an early proponent of universal human rights, known as the ‘Protector of the Indians’ and author of A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1542), Spanish colonizers in the early 16th century even left infants ‘to be devoured by their dogs’.
“The violence was ritualized,” summarizes Parry, “and even earned the nickname aperreamiento (‘a dogging’), a process in which a person was literally thrown to the dogs. Where sources are available, they show that indigenous peoples associated Spanish mastiffs in particular with the brutality of colonization.”
These “Spanish mastiffs” would today be recognized as direct ancestors of the Presa Canario, Fila Brasiliero, and Dogo Argentino of today, but came into the English language and North American culture as “Cuban bloodhounds,” because they arrived from Cuba with African slaves.
Newly arrived African slaves were often first unloaded in Havana, after being shipped as closely confined cargo across the Atlantic, and were allowed to regain health and strength for a few days, to fetch a better price, before being sent to auction.
About 80% were sold south, to other Caribbean destinations and South America. Most of the remainder came to the U.S., chiefly the plantation states of the eventual Confederacy.
Wherever the slaves went, whip-swinging “crackers” and their dogs went too.
Writes Parry, citing several documented examples. “Slaves fleeing the oppressive conditions of plantation slavery often had to evade the ‘bloodhounds’ trained by professional slave hunters.”
Recognizes Parry, “The indigenous communities in North America share a similar history of systemic, interspecies violence, though compared with the African-American experience, the record for native peoples is far less robust.”
ANIMALS 24-7 finds that remark a bit surprising. Pit bull advocates have labored for decades to erase the record and memory of the use of pit bulls by the Ku Klux Klan, including in lynchings and in managing professional dogfighting as a fundraising racket protected by KKK-controlled law enforcement agencies.
At the same time, organized pit bull advocacy has aggressively appropriated terminology from the civil rights movement, alleging that pit bulls are victims of “canine racism” based on appearance and housing discrimination analogous to that of black families who were chased out of white neighborhoods by Klansmen who set pit bulls and other aggressive dogs on them.
Google “Nashville,” by contrast, and even the briefest descriptions of the history of “Fort Nashborough,” as the city was originally called, will include accounts of how dogs were set upon Native Americans in 1781 to break a brief siege.
The roster of “dogmen” who infamously set dogs on Native Americans includes, among others, George Armstrong Custer, also known for coursing with greyhounds and whippets before he led the Seventh Cavalry to their mass demise in June 1876.
But Parry––who is aware of Custer’s record ––dug up some history of dog use against Native Americans that was not previously known to us.
“In 1708,” Parry recalls, “the Connecticut Assembly allotted 50 pounds ‘for the bringing and maintaining of dogs in the northern frontier towns in that colony, to hunt after the Indian enemy’.”
Five generations later, trying to force the Seminoles out of Florida, “the Florida territorial government imported Cuban bloodhounds in 1840 to track and subdue the rebellious population,” Parry adds. “These bloodhounds had already proved effective for the French and the British in dealing with black rebels in Haiti and Jamaica in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The authorities in Florida expected them to have a similar effect on the Seminoles. Ultimately, though, the hounds proved ineffective, as they were largely unaccustomed to tracking in the dense swampland of the Florida Everglades.”
Old mistakes repeated
But the U.S. military was scarcely done with using dogs as weapons to roust Native Americans, or with failures in the attempt.
“During the Dakota War of 1862,” Parry details, “the governor of Minnesota, Stephen Miller, purchased dogs from southern breeders. Soldiers were sent to Tennessee to purchase dogs ‘trained to follow the scent of a negro everywhere to his death’, but soon found they were hopelessly ineffective at scenting the trail of the Sioux. According to Theodore Potter, a soldier who observed the hounds in action, the animals ‘would stick their tails between their legs and make a cowardly sneak in the opposite direction’.”
Parry in his History Today article links the historical use of dogs against African Americans to contemporary conflicts over dog use in police work.
“Even after the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1865, dogs continued to symbolize the violent oppression of African Americans,” Parry emphasizes. “The dog attacks witnessed in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 are just a small piece of this history. Convicts and prisoners sang of the ‘Bloodhound Blues’ as they fought to survive in the Jim Crow South.
“In 1963, the radical black nationalist Malcolm X explained to a moderator at the University of California, Berkeley how African Americans should respond to non-human policing: ‘If a dog is biting a black man, the black man should kill the dog, whether the dog is a police dog, a hound dog, or any kind of dog.’ Such memories resonate as dog units patrol America’s inner cities and disproportionately inflict damage against young black men.”
“The Canine Terror”
Opened Parry and Yingling, “On the day that Michael Brown died in August 2014 [an 18-year-old who was shot 12 times when he allegedly resisted arrest for shoplifting], a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri guided the dog he handled to urinate on a makeshift memorial at the site where his colleagues had shot Brown hours before. The related outrage and demonstrations against police treatment in that community captured international attention.
“One long-running complaint in Ferguson,” Parry and Yingling explained, “was that police regularly used their dogs with excessive force against only African Americans. In the recent past, police in Los Angeles inflicted more injuries with dogs than guns, batons, or tear gas, and did so disproportionately against black people, whom they often called ‘dog biscuits.’”
Humane organizations, whose indifference toward recruiting, hiring, and promoting eminently qualified African Americans ANIMALS 24-7 has often decried, have over the past several decades helped law enforcement agencies to increase the penalties for harming a police dog to nearly the same as the penalties for harming a human police officer.
This has been accomplished with little or no attention to the reality that the penalties for a police officer who abuses his/her authority in a manner causing even lethal harm to an innocent person, including in deploying dogs, tend to be substantially less.
While the intent of increasing the penalties for harming police dogs may for most animal advocates, and most police, have nothing to do with self-aware expressions of racism, the resulting perceived imbalance of the scales of justice tends to send a negative message to the people who are disproportionately often on the receiving end of police dog bites.
“Federal law now states that a person faces up to ten years in prison for maiming a police dog,” Parry and Yingling summarized. “Government authorities have often viewed black people as more expendable than their canine attackers, which dates to a time [and place] when millions of African Americans were legally considered property.”
Evolution of police dog use
That time [and place] also happens to be the time and place when the use of police dogs first came into vogue.
“In 1894, the Tennessee-based newspaper Rideau Record lauded bloodhounds as ‘indispensable to the complete equipment of a good police department.’ The nonchalant discussion largely revolved around the ubiquitous practice of using canines to terrorize black Americans,” Parry and Yingling observed. “The report was not shy about connecting contemporary convict tracking to slave hunting.”
The Jacobin article included more specific historical examples than the History Today article, though the History Today article includes quite enough to make the central points.
Among the sources Parry and Yingling cited in the Jacobin are 12 Years A Slave, the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup which was eventually the basis for the film of the name that won the 2013 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture.
“Really, it was difficult to determine which I had most reason to fear––dogs, alligators, or men,” wrote Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery in Louisiana.
“The dogs used on Bayou Boeuf for hunting slaves are a kind of blood-hound,” Northup recounted, five decades before the floppy-eared dogs now called bloodhounds were imported into the U.S. from Britain, “but a far more savage breed than is found in the Northern States. They will attack a negro, at their master’s bidding, and cling to him as the common bull-dog will cling to a four footed animal. Frequently their loud bay is heard in the swamps, and then there is speculation as to what point the runaway will be overhauled…”
Parry and Yingling also cited the use of a dog to capture, and injure, a fugitive slave child in 1854 almost “under the stars and stripes” at the White House.
We can only hope that similar scenes will not ensue involving dogs and demonstrators outside the White House of today.