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“It is a rare man who does not victimize the helpless.”

Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized

Early this afternoon I was fortunate to witness a glimmer of hope for the likelihood of a more humane Pennsylvania and I was given a reminder about who the originators of the humane movement sought to protect from victimization.  

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee voted overwhelmingly in support of SB 626, a bill to expressly ban mechanical trap and tethered shoots—pigeon shoots.  In true bi-partisan fashion, Republicans and Democrats, rural and suburban politicians, passed SB 626 out of committee.  The bill was prime sponsored by Republican Senate Whip, Pat Browne, co-sponsored by many from both parties, and received only three Nay votes on the committee, and even those were cast by proxy, saving them from proudly standing tall to throw their pro-cruelty vote against the bill in public. 

Four Senators spoke in support of SB 626 and they ranged from a self-professed hunter (and tofu eating non-hunter) to a proud, card carrying NRA member.  Regardless of their views on food, hunting or gun rights, they knew that pigeon shoots were simply wrong.  Not sporting, not valued tradition.  Wrong.  And when the vote was taken and yes after yes was announced I was among those beaming with happiness that this ridiculous practice of pigeon shoots was one huge step closer to the Governor’s desk for signing.  You can imagine how the people who have been working to get even this far for decades felt.  Many were openly crying with joy and relief. 

But as happy as I was for the vote, tears did not come to my eyes.  Maybe it was because they had already been used for the woman who had just told the story of her son who was sent to a military style boot camp prison on a minor non-violent charge by one of the corrupt judges in Luzerne County who took millions to slap chains on children and subject them to cruelty for money.  

She told her story of being tricked, like thousands of other parents had been tricked, into declining counsel before going into a courtroom operating under the basest of corruption.  She saw her 17 year old star athlete, her only son, imprisoned with violent juvenile offenders, only to emerge broken and ruined.  Ultimately, he committed suicide.  James Baldwin said, “It is a rare man who does not victimize the helpless.”  One would have hoped it might have been less rare for a judge.  Having three young daughters of my own, I can’t imagine the feeling of guilt she must feel for being unable to protect her child.  We all expect to outlive our pets.  We don’t expect to outlive our children.  

Immediately after telling her story, the Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a group of bills which would probably have protected her son and many of the other children who faced the same judicial abuse.  Then they passed the pigeon bill.  In a few short minutes they did something to protect the victimized, human and animal. 

That’s what made me reflect on the origins of the anti-cruelty movement.  Many forget that cruelty against children was often a key part of that effort.  Even now, the American Humane Association has two divisions, one to prevent cruelty to animals and one to prevent cruelty to children.  Then, as now, the helpless need protection from victimization because cruelty knows no bounds, no race, no gender, no class, and no species.  It was true over 100 years ago and its true now. 

Many legislators talk about having other important issues to tackle and it’s not always merely an excuse to avoid taking on animal cruelty.  There are other important issues to address, like the corruption of the juvenile justice system.  As animal advocates, I’d encourage us all to remember that.  Save some outrage for the corrupt judge, the rapist, the perpetrator of family violence and understand that some people place these outrages a little higher on their personal list in importance. 

But for the legislators, who all too often claim that there are more important issues, remember that cruelty doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  The victimization we allow or commit against animals is witnessed by children who grow to perpetrate it- or allow it to be perpetrated- against others.  

Children raised in sporting families are supposed to learn respect for life and for the lives they take.  They are supposed to have compassion and be humane if they are going to take the life of an animal.  The forms of these values may not match perfectly with the values of the same name held by animal advocates, but they are values, similar values, nonetheless. 

But if the children of hunting families learn values from hunting, what do the children who are raised to snap the necks of pigeons learn?  One of the sub-cultures of pigeon shooting involves “wringers”, young boys who pick up the wounded birds, snap their necks and then throw them, wasted and unused, into the trash.  That doesn’t count as respect, compassion or humaneness by either side’s definition. 

And the children put through this pigeon shooting rite of passage aren’t existing in an absence of values; they are learning that it is fine and fair to do things because you feel like it, because they can make money on it, because they have the power to victimize the helpless.  They are learning to be victimizers. 

Maybe they will grow up to be animal abusers.  Maybe they will grow up to ignore it when they see it.  Or maybe who grow up to go to law school and move on to victimize the two-legged helpless.  

There were two types of bills moved out of committee today.  One helped pigeons.  Both helped children.

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