Sunday, March 24, 2013

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Edgar Gonzalez, 18 (left) and John Toribio, 18
At first glance, Torrington, CT could be anytown USA. It’s so “anytownish” that a drive through town reveals a mix of neatly manicured lawns, nicely rehabbed old buildings mixed with environmentally-correct newer architecture. With a population of under 40,000 people, (over 90 percent white), the town is reminiscent of Thornton Wilder’s enduring drama, “Our Town,” except a century later. The big difference? In Torrington, two high school football players are currently charged with forcibly raping a 13-year-old girl. That did not happen in Wilder’s Grovers Corner.

Trent Mays, 16 (l) and Ma'Lik Richmond, 17
Coming on the heels of the highly-publicized case of two footballers being convicted of rape in Steubenville, OH, the case seems eerily similar. According to published reports, Edgar Gonzalez and John Toribio were charged with felony second-degree sexual assault and other crimes last month in cases involving different 13-year-old girls. Toribio also was charged two weeks ago in another second-degree sexual assault. Not guilty pleas have been entered on behalf of both. Similarly, in Steubenville, Trent Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond answered charges of raping a drunk 16-year-old girl. Since they were minors at the time of the crime, they were sentenced as juveniles. It is likely one of them will spend a year in juvenile jail, while the other may spend two years.

There are two issues that jump off the page in both of these cases. First, via these two cases we are witnessing the extreme downside of social media. In both towns, other teens have taken to Twitter to express their anger at the victims of these assaults. The unidentified 13-year-old girl in Torrington has been called all the predictable names – snitch, bitch, slut, whore, hoe, etc. Very few Tweets have been reported that are directed at the alleged attackers. The same thing happened in Ohio. Such is the duplicitous nature of our collective morality. Some Tweets asked why a 13-year-old girl was hanging out with 18-year-old boys. One Tweet admonished the victim for “ruining two people’s lives.” Another Tweeted, “young girls acting like whores there’s no punishment, young men acting like boys that’s a sentence.” Have we not yet moved past or evolved up from the “boys will be boys” argument?

Blaming women for being raped is nothing new, but here in the early 21st century one might believe we’d be a bit more enlightened than to perpetuate such ignorant admonishments. By now, you have no doubt heard the intense criticism leveled at CNN’s anchor Candy Crowley and correspondent Poppy Harlow for their post-Steubenville sentencing coverage. More than 200,000 people have signed a petition criticizing the two reporters for allegedly sympathizing on-air with the convicted rapists rather than the young victim. Both have publicly denied that their reporting was skewed toward the boys, but the proof is in the video. Watch: A tip of the socially-conscious hat to those 200,000 plus people who signed the petition asking why the reporters never saw fit to even mention the plight of the young woman who was raped. The petition demands an on-air apology from CNN. Oh, and it gets worse: Shame, shame on CNN for airing a courtroom clip in which the name of the 16-year-old victim was said out loud. Come on CNN. What the hell is going on?

Beyond the clear sexism in the public’s and the media’s response to these types of cases is the issue of obvious negligence on the part of adults. Is no one teaching teens the necessity of social consciousness, respect for fellow human beings and the importance of behavioral boundaries? We all know that left to their own devices, some young teenage girls will recklessly flirt with older boys, and those older boys will most often be ruled by their own raging testosterone levels. Put those two combustible agents together and poof – teen rape in Anytown, USA. Don’t misinterpret this: I place the blame for these sexual assaults directly on the boys who perpetrated the crimes. But I have to wonder why we adults are not working a bit harder to properly socialize kids.

As mentioned above, there is nothing new about any of this. When I was in high school in what seems about 100 years ago, a young male teacher told one of my horny male classmates this, when pointing out a particularly big-breasted teenage girl: “See? That’s the kind of shit you go after and you don’t stop until you get it.” I never forgot that moment. How many other teachers and coaches are counseling their randy young male students or athletes to pursue that “kind of shit” even today? I daresay it’s pretty widespread. As usual, the numbers tell the story: 10.5 percent of all American high school-age girls have been forced into sexual intercourse, according to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That figure is conservative, based on the CDC’s further finding that up to 50 percent of sexual assaults against women are never reported. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that in 2007 that one in two rape victims was under age 18; one in six was under age twelve.

Often the perpetrators simply continue their daily lives, uninterrupted. Why weren’t any of these boys suspended from their football teams when the formal accusations were made? In Steubenville, Gonzalez had already been charged in a March 2012 alleged felony robbery after he and three others allegedly jumped three 14-year-olds in search of money, yet he was allowed to play in the 2012 football season anyway.

These incidents are hard reminders that we are still a paternalistic society; that we still give our young athletes a pass when it comes to their blatantly bad – and sometimes felonious – behavior; that victims of sexual crimes are often further victimized by onlookers and even Tweeters; and most importantly, that the grownups have fallen way down on the job of teaching kids right from wrong. When two grown, educated, successful women broadcast their extreme compassion for two rapists on national television, something is way, way off. When high school football coaches attempt to cover up the criminal actions of their players, the entire community suffers. It all serves only to perpetuate the myth that “it’s just sex.” It’s not just sex. It’s about power and violence and every time we protect or sympathize with a boy who rapes a girl we put another ethical dent in an already damaged culture.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) ignited a firestorm this week when he anounced his sharp u-turn on gay marriage. Long a vocal and hard-voting conservative on all issues gay (he actually co-sponsored the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA]), Portman’s stunning reversal happened after his own 26-year-old son came out as gay. (See “A Senator Sees the Light” on the left side of this page) It so happens Portman’s revelation of his change of political heart happened at the exact moment the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was in session. The ultra-liberal blog “Think Progress” dispatched a team of reporters to cover the conference. Today, one of them talked to several CPAC attendees to get their reaction to Portman’s comments. Their reaction, while predictable, is still jarring in its intolerance. In the midst of rapid societal progress, these comments illustrate how divided the country still is on social issues Watch: Interestingly, the younger attendees at CPAC have a different take on gay marriage. While not necessarily in favor of changing the law, many of them express more inclusive suggestions for social change. Watch:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

ANIMAL CRUELTY LAWS: Weak and Unenforced Sept. 12, 2011, Milan Rysa, an illegal immigrant tossed his three-year-old Shar-Pei dog out of his third-story apartment window in Queens, NY.  The dog died upon impact, barely missing two women pedestrians before it hit the street. I have been closely following the progress of Rysa’s case since that night.  Rysa, a bodybuilder who worked at a local gym, was arrested the night of the incident, although he initially said he was asleep when the dog died and had nothing to do with it. He was taken to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation and then put in prison. He eventually pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment March 15, 2012 and was given a sentence of 364 days in prison. He served just three-quarters of his sentence.!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_635/alg-milan-rysa-brklyn-jpg.jpg
Milan Rysa and "Brooklyn"
 Rysa then became subject to Immigration and Customs Enforcement action.  He is awaiting a court date to find out if he will be deported to his native Czech Republic. The message Rysa’s experience sends to the world is that in America you can murder an animal that you own, serve a brief prison sentence and then be released. If the American animal abuse laws are inadequate, it is largely because they are archaic and not prioritized by individual states. 
"PRIMO" Consider what happened in my own home town, New Orleans.  Primo was a six-year-old Belgian Malinois who served in the K-9 division of the New Orleans Police Department. In May, 2009, his handler, Officer Jason Lewis, left Primo unattended in a police vehicle in extreme heat.  The dog evidently struggled to escape the vehicle, but weakened and died of heat stroke.  Prior to dying, the dog was taken to a veterinarian, where he suffered three seizures before succumbing. Photos of the vehicle (above, left) in which Primo died show a torn up interior, likely the result of Primo’s desperate attempt to escape. It should be noted that the necropsy report by the Louisiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory shows Primo’s temperature upon arrival at the veterinary clinic was 109.8 degrees.

Lewis was appropriately fired.  But he appealed his termination and in May, 2012 the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal in New Orleans said it found no evidence that officer Jason Lewis was negligent in his care for Primo, his 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, and Lewis was reinstated to his NOPD position.

Also in May, 2009, veteran K-9 NOPD officer Sgt. Randy Lewis falsified a permission slip to use another police dog named Phantom in a security search of a shuttered New Orleans hospital.  The dog, who was not technically supposed to be on this detail, broke free from Lewis while in the hospital and fell 17 floors down an elevator shaft.  Lewis, court records indicate, then tried to cover up the details of the dog’s death.  He was charged with malfeasance in office, but remarkably, he was acquitted.

These disgusting examples of animal abuse and neglect may seem as though they are isolated incidents, but the hard truth is that animal mistreatment is epidemic in our culture. The Humane Society of America reports that most victims (65%) are dogs.  It is further reported that 71 per cent of human domestic violence victims report that their abuser also targets their animals. Forty-seven states currently have felony provisions for animal abuse. Those that do not have such laws are Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota. problem is that these laws are weakly enforced, and individual judges can dismiss cases, which is exactly what happened with Sgt. Randy Lewis. The felony animal abuse laws are unevenly prosecuted nationwide.  Perhaps this rather nonchalant view of animal abuse will explain why in 2010, there were only 16 reported cases of animal abuse in Louisiana.  In New York, where Milan Rysa murdered his dog, there were 100 cases, still a fraction of the number of animals that were most likely abused in the state that year.

Some perspective:  In Louisiana, the penalty for purse-snatching is two to 20 years in prison. But, as stated above, the penalty for allowing a dog to die under the cruelest conditions in a hot car with windows closed was…well, there was no penalty. In New York, the penalty for breaking windows in someone’s house is imprisonment for up to 10 years or a fine of not more than $15,000.00 or 3 times the amount of the destruction or injury, whichever is greater, or both imprisonment and a fine. But, in the case of Milan Rysa, the penalty for murdering a dog is less than a year in prison, and no fine. There are many states, most notably Kentucky and New Mexico, in which owners do not even have to forfeit their animals if they abuse them and get caught.  They get to keep them and most likely abuse them further. There is no consistency from state to state regarding animal abuse laws and penalties and many states almost ignore the problem. In Iowa, for example, police officers are not even required to report animal abuse that they witness, or to intervene to try to stop the abuse. You can beat your dog up in front of an Iowa cop and he or she has no obligation to stop you.

In 2012, the Animal Legal Defense Fund issued a report, "U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings," in which it ranked every state in the U.S. as to its animal abuse laws and enforcement.  Even in Illinois, which it ranked in the top five states for animal protection, it revealed that if a citizen is convicted of animal abuse, he or she does not have to give up their animal. Further, just like Iowa, if police officers witness animal abuse, they do not have “an affirmative duty to enforce animal protection laws.”   Other states have animal protection laws that lack definitions, so enforcement of the laws becomes arbitrary.  Still other states lack basic laws to protect animals from obvious mistreatment. In New Mexico, for example, remarkably there are no provisions for sexual assault of an animal. We humans have to start taking action in our individual states to strengthen these laws.  Here is what you can do:

1.      Contact your state legislators and express your concern about animal protection. Many legislators do not take much of an interest in animal protection because it is not a hot button topic that gains them notoriety or votes. You have to push them to act. WE ALL HAVE TO BECOME ACTIVISTS AND LOBBYISTS.  Animals are depending on us.
2.      If you suspect or witness animal cruelty or neglect, report the abuse to the Humane Society, document what you have seen or suspected and be willing to testify against the perpetrator.
3.      Work within the system to strengthen existing animal protection laws in your state. Start locally, move to the state level and then the national level, via groups that are already involved with animal protection.
4.      Know the laws in your state so that you can know what is missing. Click here to learn the specifics of the laws in your state, as listed by the ASPCA.    Also, know what laws are pending.  You can find this out through an interactive map
6.      at Born Free USA, a national non-profit organization that lobbies for the care and protection of animals. 
 5.  Contact the media to get coverage for instances of extreme cruelty and neglect. If you contact a local television station, ask to speak directly with the news director and be brief, concise and specific.  Offer to be interviewed, if necessary. 

Most importantly, adopt animals that you can take care of properly. Encourage people you trust to do the same. If you truly love animals, now is the time for us all to mobilize against animal cruelty.  Never give up and never stop caring.