The week before the formal indictment of fallen Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick the headlines on wire services and in some newspapers screamed that dog fighting was now the rage in poor, black urban neighborhoods. The proof consists of a couple of big name rappers Jay-Z and DMX that glorify pit bull toughness in a video that depicts a pit bull lunging at the camera and a reference to "Grand Champ" supposedly a dog fighting champ supreme, a couple more rappers that keep pit bulls, and of course, Vick. The
The Humane Society quickly sniffed dollars in the fable of the ghetto dog fighting pandemic. One society official branded it a growing nightmare and solemnly declared that there were more than 40,000 professional dog fighting rings in the country and that there were probably dozens more that stage fights in back alleys and abandoned tenements in black neighborhoods. A smattering of police officials in Chicago and a couple of other cities weighed in and claimed that thousands of young black gang members and potential gangsters were lathering the streets with blood and gore from wounded, injured and beat up dogs in dog gladiator contests. The experts even claimed that the dogs and the fights were their surrogates to establish and protect gang and drug turfs.
This race tinged fable just as other fables is long on anecdote, rumor and sensationalism and short, very short, on hard evidence. In the data base run by pet abuse.com there were a grand total of 16 bona fide dog fighting cases in the United States in 2000. Six years later that figure had soared to the whopping total of 127. In the first 7 months of 2007, the number of dog fighting cases leaped to an astounding 74 cases. At that rate the number of cases would fall slightly under the anemic figure in 2006.
In Los Angeles County which has been branded the gang capital of America with hundreds of black and Latino street gangs, the Los Angeles County District Attorney has filed charges in nearly 140 cases of animal cruelty since 2000. Now those are charges alleging animal cruelty and not exclusively dog fighting cases. The cases were filed not just in black and Latino areas but throughout Los Angeles County. Yet that was enough for the District Attorney to much fanfare announce the arrest and prosecution of two South Los Angeles men on animal cruelty charges. Both were suspected of running dog fighting rings. The charges against them are the sum total of dog fighting related arrests in L.A. County in 2007.
But in the wake of the Vick guilty plea, a spate of articles in the Los Angeles press dutifully warned that dog fighting was raging in some black and Latino areas in South Los Angeles. The proof was the one case that the DA prosecuted and more anecdotal quips from a couple of residents that dog fighting is a fact of life in their neighborhoods. They, as others that made the unsupported claim of dog fighting bouts on every street corner, did not cite any dates, times, places, let alone names of those that staged the dogfights.
In fact, the only known figure of any note outside of Vick that has been slapped with multiple charges related to dog fighting has been dog breeding kingpin Floyd Boudreaux in Louisiana. The 72 year old guru of dog fight breeding and training will stand trial in January on the charges. How involved he is in the actual staging of dog matches is unknown. His son says that the old man hasn't been involved with dog fighting in years. True, or not, that as so much about dog fighting and the myths surrounding it leave it wide open to question just how many people are involved with dog fighting, and just how big a racket it really is.
In years past dog fighting was a popular "sport" in some parts of the South, Midwest and rural areas. There are a handful of professional underground and on-line dog fighting magazines that pump the business. But after that things get murky. It's again open to question how many persons are involved in buying, selling, breeding and training of dogs for fighting, and how many professional dogfighters and dog fighting rings there actually are in the country. It's an even bigger question (mark) how many of them are run by black gang members.
It doesn't much matter. Whether dog fighting profiteers are found in a poor black urban neighborhood are reside in well-heeled, palatial estates in the suburbs, the story line is frozen in print. Dog fighting is the new, violent, much heralded and very lucrative sport of inner city blacks. This makes good copy and unchallenged public belief. And that's the stuff of a brand spanking new urban legend.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York) in English and Spanish will be out in October.