MONDAY, JULY 20, 2015

Part 1—The running of the (pit) bulls:
Compared to other developed nations, the United States has an extremely large number of fatal shootings by police.

In fairness, we also have an extremely large number of fatal shootings by people who aren’t police.

In Chattanooga last week, for example, we had one fatal shooting by police. It was preceded by five fatal shootings of the other kind.

Most people would say that last week's fatal police shooting in Chattanooga was justified. In the last few years, we’ve all seen videotape of other fatal shootings by police which plainly were not.

How often do such shootings occur? To what extent are such shootings motivated by race?

The latter question has received a lot of attention in the past several years. In a break with our basic traditions, the Washington Post is even trying to assemble some basic data about this important topic!

Those data can be found at this site, which we discussed last week.

As we noted last Thursday, the Post is attempt to create a record of every fatal shooting by police in the whole country this year. The shootings are categorized by race, by gender, by age.

The large majority of the deceased were armed, the Post is reporting. As of this morning, the Post was reporting 524 fatal shootings by police in the United States this year. That includes last week’s fatal shooting in Chattanooga, the ninth such shooting in Tennessee this year.

These fatal shootings have produced a great deal of commentary from the liberal/progressive world in the past several years. So have a set of fatal non-police shootings, including the nine shootings in Charleston last month.

According to widespread reports, publication of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book was moved up to address “the moment” created by those events. The book is producing widespread discussion.

All week, we plan to discuss some of the ways the liberal world has discussed those fatal shootings by police (and, sometimes, by others). With apologies, we’re going to start with an unconnected observation we made long ago.

It was the summer of 87 and the pit bulls were really running! On June 20, Peter Jennings anchored a full-length report on the subject on World News Tonight:
JENNINGS (6/20/87): There's been another report today about somebody being attacked by a pit bull. There have been a lot of such reports lately and they have made many people nervous.

The Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance today which makes it easier for the city to pick up and destroy vicious dogs. The question is, Where does the fault lie? With the dogs or with the owners who train them?

ABC's Ken Kashiwahara is in California.

KASHIWAHARA: Pound for pound, they are considered the most aggressive and tenacious fighting dogs in the world, with jaws so powerful they can tear through a chain link fence. Now, from one end of the country to the other, pit bulls are biting and killing humans more often than ever before.

With the wrong person, this is a loaded keg of dynamite. So far this year, five people have been killed by pit bulls...
Were pit bulls really “biting and killing humans more often than ever before?” We can’t tell you that.

According to Kashiwahara, five people had been killed by pit bulls that year—but this is a very big country. At any rate, Kashiwahara continued along with an alarming, attention-grabbing report.

He described a two-year-old California boy who “was literally torn to pieces.” Also, a case in Ohio “where pit bulls dragged a 67-year-old man from the top of a car and killed him.”

Pit bull stories were big that summer in the New York Times. On July 12, Peter Applebome did a news report about the “steady flow of horror stories” concerning the savage dogs.

“Angered and frightened by a steady flow of horror stories about pit bull attacks on people, many cities and states are rushing to enact legislation to ban or regulate the animals,” Applebome wrote. “Officials who work with animals say it is the most concentrated legal assault on a specific breed they can recall.”

Two days later, an AP report appeared in the Times under this headline: “Police Shoot Pit Bull Terrier After It Attacks 2 Dobermans.” On July 19, another lengthy report described the growing calls around the country for pit bull legislation. The report focused on “the reported 33 pit bull attacks this year in Connecticut.”

On July 20, a headline in the Times said this: “Pit Bull Attacks An Off-Duty Officer.” On August 2, the editors finally spoke.

“While all-out bans are difficult to enforce, there is ample reason to discourage pit bull ownership,” the Times said in its editorial. “According to the Humane Society, pit bulls were responsible for 21 of the 29 deaths from dog attacks in the United States since 1983. Those figures can’t be ignored.”

Journalistically, pit bull attacks were big that year. And then, if our recollection is accurate, the running of the pit bull stories basically disappeared, rather suddenly, at some point.

We recall this because, as a comedian, we briefly tried to do some jokes about the reasons why the pit bulls may have suddenly decided to stop their incessant biting. The jokes didn’t last, but the episode stuck in our mind as an example of a real journalistic phenomenon—the phenomenon of selective presentation.

What was the truth about the pit bulls? We have no idea. But in March 1991, a news report in the Times announced that the city of New York was repealing restrictions it had enacted just two years before.

Alessandra Stanley did the report. Some “creeping Dowdism” was perhaps on display as she recalled the way Mayor Koch had compared the widely-feared dog to the great white shark.

Stanley pondered canine rights. Headline included, this is the way she began:
STANLEY (3/12/91): New York Acts to Lift Pit Bull Controls

The pit bull terrier, widely feared and, in the eyes of owners, maligned and misunderstood, had a taste of sweet vindication yesterday.

The New York City Board of Health took a major step toward repealing restrictions on pit bull terriers that had been written into the health code in 1989, when Edward I. Koch was mayor. The restrictions followed a rash of highly publicized pit bull bitings that led Mr. Koch, who likened the breed to "a great white shark," to try to ban the dogs from the city.

The repeal is expected to be enacted formally in April. It would be a benchmark in canine constitutional rights.

The Board of Health acted in response to a State Supreme Court preliminary injunction, issued in September 1989 against the pit bull health code regulations after the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other opponents complained that the rules were discriminatory. The board approved a public hearing on April 22 to consider removing the regulations.

Lisa B. Weisberg, a lawyer for the A.S.P.C.A., said the organization had opposed the pit bull section of the health code because it was "breed specific" and "deprived owners of due process and equal protection."

Last year the City Council passed the Dangerous Dog Regulation and Protection Law. The law, which took effect in January, allows the Department of Health, after a hearing, to impose a number of strict measures on any dog that threatens or injures a person or other animal without provocation.

The pit bull, in other words, is no longer to be singled out and stigmatized as a breed.
Stanley was having some fun that day. At any rate, the city’s discriminatory stigmatization hadn’t lasted real long. 67-year-old men on the roofs of cars be damned!

How dangerous were pit bulls in 1987? How dangerous are they today? We have no idea. But as with the telegenic shark of the sea, so too with the bull of dry land—it’s easy to create waves of fear if newspapers, and now news channels, go out of their way to memorialize every bite.

The United States is a very large country. Whatever you want to talk about, you can probably find it happening somewhere pretty much every day—or at least every week, or possibly every month.

Whatever it is you’re focused on, you can likely create the sense that it’s happening all the time. In the process, you might create some misconceptions about a phenomenon which is both real and important.

Have we liberals been doing something like that as we discuss police shootings? To some extent, we’d have to say the answer is yes.

Police misconduct does occur. Does it happen as often as we keep suggesting?

We’ll examine that question all week. This will lead us to a discussion of Coates’ widely-discussed new book, which we’re still waiting to get.

We’ve been watching the interviews on TV. We’re eager to read the full book.

Tomorrow: Chris Hedges, counting the hours


  1. Most pit bulls will not bite and kill. Most pitbulls have a propensity to bite and kill. Pit bulls represent a huge proportion of the dogs who do kill. Pit bulls and other breeds that top the list for deadly attacks should be singled out because they are frequently dangerous and deadly. Whether they are regulated should be up to the people and whether they are banned in certain places should be up to that business owner but for the "discrimination" and "My pit bull is the nicest dog" arguments to prevail is insanity.

    1. There should at least be consideration given to the First Amendment Rights of those who worship Pit Bulls as a minor deity and those whose religious teachings call for their sacrifice and consumption at high holiday meals.

  2. "Lisa B. Weisberg, a lawyer for the A.S.P.C.A., said the organization had opposed the pit bull section of the health code because it was "breed specific" and "deprived owners of due process and equal protection.""

    Do they also argue singling out specific styles of firearms is depriving owners of equal protection? They argue pit bulls are as dangerous as the owner makes them. Same is true of firearms.

    1. "Do they also argue singling out specific styles of firearms is depriving owners of equal protection?"

      No they leave that to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Firearms.

      I don't give to them anymore, but I do volunteer for my local chapter of AK-47 Rescue.

  3. In the Los Angeles area, people were acquiring pit bulls and training them to attack in order to protect their property and sometimes for purposes of dog fighting. They were the preferred dog for those purposes. We envision dogs as pets but training a dog to be vicious is far from the usual relationship someone has with a pet dog. When these dogs occasionally got loose, as dogs sometimes do, neighborhood kids and anyone unable to defend themselves, were at real risk. Living in the area, I know that the number of injuries was higher than the number of people killed.

    If the occurrence of dog attacks was reduced by a concerted effort to control dog fighting and bans on ownership of pit bulls, they would be expected to disappear from news reports. If the use of such dogs for inappropriate purposes declined, the need for laws against them would go away, leaving the pet owners to reclaim the breed.

    It doesn't have to be hysteria that produces these stories. They can appear and disappear with changes in human behavior over time. As Somerby says, he doesn't know what the true state of affairs has been with respect to pit bull attacks. He thinks the press has selectively focused on reporting dog attacks. What if they reported the attacks that occurred but the attacks themselves ebbed with attempts to suppress misuse of dogs? Then the press would not have been creating hysteria due to selective reporting. The public would have created and eliminated a public health problem through changing behavior.

    Which is it? You would have to dig out statistics showing that the number of dog attacks stayed constant while the press changed its reporting. Somerby hasn't done that, so I don't think he has made his case for selective reporting.

    1. Today, Pit Bull is the stage name of a revered entertainer representing our growing Hispanic demographic and his visage adorns adverts for one of America's favorite recreational beverages.

      The press continues its selective creation, then abandonment of needless hysteria.

      And the gifted comic who tried to alert us to this plague in our discourse carries on in virtual anonymity to this day, warning of greater danger to come.

    2. @ 11:24, what is which?

    3. Is it selective reporting (and a press loss of interest) that causes the news reports to wax and wane, or is it an actual change in the incidence of dog attacks that caused there to be a decrease in news reports about them, after the peak.

    4. I thought so. After all, pit bull stories have disappeared but it is "shark week" on cable.

    In the decade of the 50's!

    With apologies, we’re going to start with an unconnected observation made long ago.

    In 1850 Congress, in an effort to help independent farmers recover lost or stolen property, passed the Fugitive Slave Act.

    How dangerous were freed slaves roaming the north in 1850? How dangerous are their ancestors today today? We have no idea.

    Most slaves did not leave their rightful place where they performed useful tasks in America's largest export producing industry and served as the single largest privately held capital asset in America's free market economy.

    But some slaves were lured away by propaganda of a better life in the north. Some may have been stolen by radical activists. Others may have simply lost there way, ignorant of simple navigation techniques and crossed boundaries they shouldn't have.

    Alas! The liberal media began characterizing them as "runaway slaves" as if all of the misplaced persons of African descent had left of their free will. This view perpetrated a misunderstanding of the good conditions provided by many generous enlightened southerners who valued the labor their property provided. This also made ordianry northern rubes unaware of the danger these fugitives posed.

    A leading southern scientist identified many of these misguided Negroes as suffering from Drapetomania, a mental illness. In the case of slaves "sulky and dissatisfied without cause" – a warning symptom of approaching disease, doctors prescribed "whipping the devil out of them" as a "preventative measure". As a remedy for the actual disease doctors also made running a physical impossibility by prescribing the removal of both big toes.

    Northern journalists mocked these physicians, a habit of "otherizing" people from the south that causes resentment still today.

    Inflamed by the press many northern cities passed laws aimed at defying the Fugitive Slave Act. Law enforcement officers (they life of a cop is always tough) and others were threatened when attempting to enforce the provisions of the act and returns this property to a place where it could benefit the nation as a whole.

    Things got so bad one clueless northern woman, in an early example of what would become known as Creeping Dowdism, wrote a book called "Uncle Tom's Cabin" which clearly described events which didn't really happen.

    We may cover "Uncle Tom's Cabin" next week. Or the week after. We don't know. That said, it is viewed as one cause of the War of Northern Aggression, a conflict which still provokes many lazy liberals to look down their noses at people from the south and needlessly provoke the kind of animosity we think are to be avoided today.

    1. Because black people are like vicious dogs? I don't understand your reasoning here. Can you state your point more plainly?

    2. In our view, further clarification may be needed. But we are late for a luncheon where Irish babies are being served. Gack! Where does the time go?

      Was 1987 or 1850 really that long ago? There are reporters with Yale degrees covering Presidential campaigns who weren't even born then. For their benefit we will thoroughly discuss both the Pit Bull and Fugitive Slave Act in many further posts and can perhaps provide clarification then.

    3. Yes, you think you're very clever but you don't have the courage to express your ideas in your own words, unlike Somerby.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. [QUOTE] Things got so bad one clueless northern woman, in an early example of what would become known as Creeping Dowdism, wrote a book called "Uncle Tom's Cabin" which clearly described events which didn't really happen. [END QUOTE]

      It pains me to say it but, well done.

    6. Ancestors today today? Fire your editor.

    7. We will assign her to the obituary archives covering yesterday's descendants tomorrow.

    8. CMike, your admiration of our local troll explains a lot about why you are so enamored of Sanders. If you think about his analogy, it doesn't hold up at all. It is cute on the surface but lacks substance. Similarly, giving a bit more thought to whether Sanders would make a good president might lead you to be less enthusiastic about his current campaign.

    9. I try to take things one miracle at a time, 4:17 PM.

    10. Easier to see miracles if you don't look too closely.

    11. Or if they are Polish.

  5. Jonny Scrum-halfJuly 20, 2015 at 1:04 PM

    1. I think that Bob is clearly correct about the nature of the media's regular behavior. The press is a critical component of our democratic society, but it really does a very poor job of informing the public about facts.
    2. I don't know if Bob is correct in what appears to be his suggestion that police killings are being over-reported. I'm glad the Washington Post is trying to get some facts on this issue because I don't know if my feeling that blacks are unfairly targeted is the result of selective presentation.
    3. I fear that Bob is prophetically correct in his warnings that the methods used by liberals and progressives are going to turn-off enough voters that a Republican will win the Presidency in 2016. The "Black Lives Matter" incident with Sanders and O'Malley is a good example of this sort of thing.

    1. On the other hand, the efforts of Donald Trump may cancel out the negative response to liberal excesses.

      In the Summer of 05!

      "Trump has also been generous with the Clinton Foundation, donating at least $100,000, according to the non-profit.

      In another sign of their closeness, Clinton attended Trump’s 2005 wedding to current wife Melania Knauss at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, along with the likes of Katie Couric, Billy Joel and then-“American Idol” judge Simon Cowell. (According to People, Clinton had front-pew seating. Though Bill missed the ceremony itself, he did show up to the reception.)"

      Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/06/donald-trump-donations-democrats-hillary-clinton-119071.html#ixzz3gSatJ4Jz

    3. http://assets.bwbx.io/images/iTVKK6C4YhsM/v1/-1x-1.jpg

    4. Donald Trump has been married to the same woman for a decade? That is longer than two whole terms in the White House!

    5. Americans will enjoy very much the coverage of Barron Trump's passage to manhood as our very own First Child!

    6. Fundraising for charitable foundations is a dirty job but someone has to do it if you want to have money to do good in the world. Why shouldn't Trump contribute to the treatment of AIDs in Africa and similar good causes? Is Clinton somehow tainted because he schmoozed a few billionaires on behalf of his family foundation? It doesn't make him bff's with any of his contributors, although Bill Clinton by personality seems to be bff's with the world.

    7. Bill didn't go to the wedding. Hillary did. Front pew seat. Helping out her constituents in New York. By attending a rich guy's wedding in Florida.

      But the reception. Now that is dirty work. Wonder whose plane he flew down in?

    8. That must mean Hillary is not only a secret Republican but she believes all the stuff Trump does! Good thing someone told us about this.

    9. I think it merely shows how close centrist Dems are to Repubs on all but the Mexican question.

    10. Hillary's liberal rating in the senate was the same as Sanders. How does that make her centrist?

    11. I think it makes Sanders a phony. I've always been for Warren.

      I want a woman not some old guy with a New York accent.

      Her first nation's heritage is also a plus.

    12. ...liberal rating in the senate...

      You keep using those words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean.

    13. http://www.nationaljournal.com/pictures-video/the-15-most-liberal-senators-20140206

      Sanders isn't anywhere near the top 15.

    14. Elizabeth Warren isn't in that top 15 either, but Chuck Schumer- the bane of Wall Street -is tied for #1.

    15. Feel free to define as liberal whatever your favorite candidate happens to have done.

  6. Is this a great country and a great blog, or what?

    The United States is a very large country. Whatever you want to talk about, you can probably find it happening somewhere pretty much every day—or at least every week, or possibly every month.

    Police misconduct does occur. Pit bull attacks were big in 1987.
    You can buy hula hoops online. Unconnected observations can and will be made, but are rarely fatal. To some extent we'd have to say the answer is liberals.