Horses & dogs used and misused by both cops & demonstrators
NEW YORK, N.Y.–– “Stop treating us like animals and thugs, and start treating us with some respect!” fumed New York Police Benevolent Association president Mike O’Meara to a June 9, 2020 media conference.
That was all O’Meara had to say about animals.
The passing mention, however, raised the question of just how animals have been treated, used and misused, both by police and by protesters.
Police dogs and horses, in particular, have been heavily used in nearly three weeks of demonstrations around the U.S. and the world, calling for police reform in the wake of the May 25, 2020 killing of Minneapolis arrestee George Floyd, 46, a black man, by white police officer Derek Chauvin, 44.
O’Meara condemned the killing as “disgusting.”
Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s throat for nearly nine minutes while Floyd and bystanders pleaded for his life and at least two witnesses captured the scene on video.
Chauvin is charged with second degree murder, after racking up 18 complaints for alleged misconduct in 19 years. Three other Minneapolis police officers are charged as accessories.
Chauvin, a 17-year outdoor security guard at a local nightclub during his off-duty hours, and Floyd, a four-year indoor bouncer at the same club, knew each other and had previously conflicted, according to witnesses, allegedly over Chauvin roughly handling minority patrons.
Most use of police horses & dogs in 50 years
Police responses to the protests following Floyd’s death may have involved the most simultaneous deployments of dogs and horses around the U.S. since the protests that followed the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in May 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War.
American attention during the three weeks after Floyd was killed tended to focus on injuries to humans: suspects and bystanders injured and killed by police in past incidents, and injuries to demonstrators and news media inflicted by police officers who were caught on video running amok in city after city.
Secondarily, Americans took frequent note of arsons, looting, and property damage by thug elements who hid behind tens of thousands of peaceful protesters, tending to emerge late in protests after most participants went home.
“Stop use of horses for crowd control,” petition asks Parliament
Posting an online petition on behalf of the animals caught up in the violence was left to an English woman, Emily Somers, who on June 7, 2020 asked the British Parliament to prohibit use of police horses for crowd control in potentially violent situations.
“Only today a police horse bolted from the scene after becoming so frightened it decided to flee, resulting in the injury of its officer and a protester,” Somers prefaced the petition.
“Objects as large as bicycles are being thrown at mounted police,” Somers continued, “causing these horses extreme panic and distress. In Dallas, USA, a protester ended up actually breaking the nose of a police horse after throwing a brick.
“This is utterly vile,” Somers said, “and only serves to harm rather than forward the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Mounted officer injured
British Broadcasting Corporation home affairs correspondent Tom Symonds reported that the injury to a police officer and a protester Somers described occurred when a demonstration “was largely over,” but “missiles and fireworks were thrown at a police line.
“Two officers were seriously injured,” Symonds recounted, “including a Mounted Branch officer who was knocked from her horse when the horse hit a set of traffic lights whilst appearing to bolt.”
The female officer “suffered a broken collarbone, a broken rib, and a punctured lung, according to the Metropolitan Police Federation,” Symonds continued.
“The officer had struggled to stay in control as she was riding down the street surrounded by protesters. She remains in hospital in a stable condition after undergoing surgery.”
Police horses injured, too
The Dallas incident, occurring on May 31, 2020, ended with criminal charges brought against Alexander Delgado, 18, of Terrell, Texas, an outlying Dallas suburb, for alleged interference with a police service animal resulting in injury. The horse is expected to recover.
Other horses reportedly suffered minor injuries a day earlier in Sacramento and Los Angeles, California.
“In Sacramento, police officers surrounded the State Capitol as protesters pelted them and their horses with oranges and water bottles,” the New York Times summarized.
In Los Angeles, the New York Times continued, “Several hundred people reflecting the diversity of the city — white, black, Latino, Asian-American — protested peacefully. About two hours [afterward] a confrontation played out between a crowd of people and a team of police officers in riot gear and on horseback.
“When police horses entered the area,” the New York Times said, “a chaotic few seconds followed. Police barricades tumbled to the ground and people fell down. Glass bottles flew through the air. At one point the crowd chanted: “No justice, no peace.”
Trump threatens use of “vicious dogs”
Police dog use in response to demonstrations prompted by the George Floyd killing first drew media notice when U.S. President Donald Trump on May 29, 2020 Tweeted to followers that if any of the protesters gathered in Washington D.C. had tried to enter the White House grounds, “They would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least.”
Responded Tyler D. Parry, assistant professor of African American and African diaspora studies at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, to Washington Post reporter Sydney Trent, “You don’t even have to be an expert to know that threatening protesters with vicious dogs evokes a very uncomfortable and heinous chapter in American history.”
Dogs used in lynchings
Summarized Trent, paralleling past ANIMALS 24-7 coverage, “Dogs were often brought to lynchings to intimidate and brutalize black victims. Before the advent of the first police K-9 units in the 1950s, police held public exhibitions in which dogs raced to track down black men.
“So quick were officers in the Los Angeles Police Department to sic dogs on people of color — referring at one point to black youths as ‘dog biscuits’ — that the department’s practices were challenged in 1991 by several civil rights groups before the lawsuit was settled amid promises of reform. As recently as 2013, research by the Police Assessment Resource Center showed a troublingly high number of African American and Latino residents of Los Angeles had been bitten by police dogs.
“Two years later, the Justice Department investigation into the Ferguson, Missouri police department following the 2014 shooting death of [black suspect] Michael Brown revealed that “in every canine bite incident for which racial information is available, the person bitten was African American.”
The outcome of the Justice Department investigation of police dog use in Ferguson was that the St. Louis County Police Department agreed to discontinue deploying dogs for crowd control.
“Some cops still don’t get it”
Unfortunately, observed Bay Area News Group reporter Daniel Bornstein on June 4, 2020, “Police use of a biting dog to arrest a protester during racial justice demonstrations this week in Walnut Creek signals that some cops still don’t get it.”
After demonstrators blocked traffic on Interstate 680, Bornstein reported, a Contra County multi-departmental SWAT team brought two dogs, and “Once the dogs were there, they were used when tensions rose.
“A young black man, identified by police as Joseph Malott, sustained bites to his knee and hand,” Bornstein wrote, “after he was brought down by police and one of the two dogs that were on the scene.
“Malott had thrown a tear gas canister back at police as they were trying to clear the entrance ramp. He was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer and resisting/obstructing an officer,” Bornstein summarized.
“Not only tone-deaf but excessive”
“The weapon,” Bornstein explained, “was the tear gas canister that police had previously thrown his way, which if it was truly deadly raises serious questions about why police were using it in the first place for crowd control. But, beyond that, photos from the scene and accounts from our reporter Annie Sciacca show that using dogs was not only a tone-deaf response, it was excessive.
“When the dog was used to bring down Malott,” Bornstein said, “most of the crowd had dispersed after police fired tear gas and non-lethal rounds. The cops had sufficient personnel to swarm him; they didn’t need canine assistance.
“Sadly, when I talked to him,” Bornstein finished, “Lieutenant Steve Brinkley of the San Ramon Police Department,” whose dog reportedly bit Malott, “was unfazed and uneducated about law enforcement’s troubled canine history. But Martinez police chief Manjit Sappal understood. The officers handling the dogs came from his department.
“In terms of optics, it doesn’t look good,” Sappal told Bornstein. “We won’t be sending dogs any longer.”
German shepherd killed
At least one dog, a 14-year-old German shepherd, was killed in a protest-related incident
“Milwaukee police chief Alfonso Morales revealed that an altercation between a member of car caravan following pedestrian marchers and a Cambridge Woods resident resulted in the death of a dog,” reported Jeramey Jannene on June 3, 2020, soon after Morales described the incident to John Mercure of WTMJ News.
Picked up Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Meg Jones, “A man walking his dog about 11:30 p.m. in the 3000 block of North Bartlett Avenue was almost struck by a reckless driver, Milwaukee police said. When the dog owner argued with the reckless driver, the motorist fired several shots at the man. He was not injured, but his dog was hit by gunfire.”
The injured dog was subsequently euthanized.
Buddy & Black Lives Matter
Actual dog use by demonstrators has apparently been limited to enlisting a variety of dogs, mostly leashed, to carry banners. A video of a golden retriever named Buddy carrying a Black Lives Matter sign for Cincinnati protester Sarah Emrick reportedly drew more than 8.5 million views on social media.
Emrick drew some online criticism for having taken the dog, but posted “We are back home and safe. It was a peaceful protest and we left before the curfew. I would never put him [Buddy] in harm’s way. I was very careful and was aware of my surroundings. I made sure to leave way before things got crazy.”
Horse tramples protester
Horse use in Houston, Texas, George Floyd’s home for most of his life, became briefly contentious, KTRK-TV news reported on June 1, 2020, “after video surfaced showing a police officer on a horse trample a protester,” but Houston mayor Sylvester Turner “apologized to the woman involved,” KTRK-TV continued.
“You can characterize (it) any way you want,” said Houston police chief Art Acevedo. “But as I look at [the video], officers are taking rocks. I would ask the public to look at where that mounted officer, where his gaze is. He’s looking right at what ahead. And then, that young lady is walking backward. I don’t think she ever saw the horse coming either, so it appears that might have been unintentional.”
Acevedo pledged that the Houston police department would review the video, as well as video from body cameras worn by other officers, and report their findings.”
“No one can ignore a black woman on a horse”
Two days earlier, on June 1, 2020, horse trainer and jumps rider Brianna Noble, 25, of Martinez, California, “was just pissed, sitting at home and seeing the video of George Floyd. I felt helpless,” Noble told Guardian reporter Abené Clayton, “and thought to myself, ‘I’m just another protester if I go down there [to a demonstration held that evening in Oakland, California] alone, but no one can ignore a black woman sitting on top of a horse.’”
On impulse, Noble trailered her horse Dapper Dan to Oakland, left the trailer at Lake Merritt park, a few blocks from the protest, and rode down Broadway Avenue among thousands of marchers on foot.
Video of Noble’s ride inspired about two dozen members of the Houston urban trail-riding club The Nonstop Riders to bring their steeds join the next big Houston protest march, reportedly 60,000-strong.
“One video [of the Houston riders], taken by the NBC News reporter Mike Hixenbaugh, was retweeted by Lil Nas X of ‘Old Town Road’ [hit song] fame,” recounted Alex Nicholl of Business Insider.
Dakota Access protests inspired horse use
Black Lives Matter protesters in Chicago and Minneapolis “have also adopted the tactic [of riding horses], which was common during the North Dakota Dakota Access Pipeline protests” of 2016, Nicholl recalled.
Those protests, however, were led by rural Native Americans, for many of whom horses are still a part of daily life.
Also apparently inspired by Brianna Noble’s ride was a 19-second video clip amplified by social media that “appears to show someone recording from the back of a horse galloping through city streets,” wrote New York Daily News reporter Thomas Tracy. “The man filming as he rides the horse shouts to onlookers that he ‘stole’ it from police, although it was later determined that the person recording owned the horse.”
“Carried home in a horse-drawn carriage”
George Floyd’s remains were flown from Minneapolis to Raeford, North Carolina, just outside Fayetteville, North Carolina, for a memorial service where Floyd was born.
“Before the service,” reported USA Today, the 46-year-old’s body was placed in the center of the lobby, where mourners from the public were allowed in groups of 10.
A group of black men on horses rode into the parking lot, followed a few minutes later by a local motorcycle group.”
On June 8, 2020, Floyd was buried in Houston, “carried home in a horse-drawn carriage,” Associated Press noted.