That link up there goes to a Facebook page, “Justice For Cisco.” Cisco was a dog here in Austin who was killed by APD a few days ago. You may have heard of him by now if you logged onto Facebook on Sunday night — the page had 500 “likes” when Kat sent it to me this evening, but is up to nearly 6,000 of them as of two AM. Presumably by morning, there’ll be even more people outraged over Cisco’s death.
It’s a sad story for a few reasons, the one cited in most tellings of the story being that the police, who were called to investigate a domestic disturbance, had the wrong house. By the account of the guy whose house it was, the police officer on the scene started shouting at him, Cisco ran over and barked to protect his owner, and the officer shot the dog. Afterwards, he says, the officer declined to apologize and instead insisted that he should have had the dog on a leash in his own yard.
It is an egregious story. People are rightly upset. I may be writing a more substantial story about it tomorrow, in which I will go into all of that in greater detail. But here’s a thing for tonight:
Most of the people who’ve commented on this have done so very delicately. “Being a police officer is a very hard job,” they say, or “Most police officers are obviously decent and good people,” they write in the preface. They don’t want to come off as anti-cop by saying that they think that this is indicative of how police officers as a whole are, or would respond. It’s almost reflexive.
But here is the thing with that: It does not matter, ultimately, if most police officers are good people or would never shoot a dog without first investigating if they were shooting the right dog at the correct address. It doesn’t change anything about what this is about. What this is about, ultimately, is that there is no “justice for Cisco.” Police shoot dogs all the time, and they almost never suffer consequences (ten days ago, the city of Taneytown, Maryland was fined $625,000 for the actions of two of its police officers in shooting a dog, but that was such a rare outcome that it was a major victory for people who follow this sort of story — furthermore, fining the city is quite different from punishing the officers in question).
It’s easy for people who’ve paid attention to this sort of thing for a long time to get jaded when people suddenly notice that these things happen, like, “Oh,nowyou’re concerned when it happens to a dog that belongs to someone like you,” But that’s not what bothers me. What bothers me is that, until something clear-cut like this happens, most people do not believe that something like this could happen without any recourse. That it’s perfectly acceptable for our police to kill our animals under any circumstance, and no one in a position to say or do anything about it will take any sort of action at all. It’s a stark reminder that we live in a culture where the police are empowered to do almost anything they want, and the only thing thatreallyseparates us from the people to whom they’re doing it are that it hasn’t happened to us yet. It’s not about good or bad, guilty or innocent — not really. It’s about who it’s happened to. So far, not us. But if and when it does? Then this whole thing starts all over again.
And dogs — there’s something about the police killing dogs that just throws it in sharp relief. Because a dog, barking in its own yard, is inherently not at fault. It is an entirely innocent creature — you don’t need to try to dig up old Tweets it sent to a girl about slapping a bus driver or wearing a backwards cap to make it look like a thug. And while Cisco was apparently an Australian shepherd, which is a larger breed, they’ll kill a miniature dachschund or a Jack Russell terrier, too. It’s not about feeling threatened — it’s about the police officer being the boss, and being equipped to deal with any problem with force, knowing that there are no consequences.
This story’s sad, for sure. But it’s also just a stark reminder that we’ve created, and we now live in, a system that empowers the police to do more or less whatever they choose, in any situation. The fact that it’s hard for people to ever even see that until the victim is a dog that reminds them of their own is both frustrating and, I suppose, to be expected. But next time you read something like this, feel free to leave off the disclaimers about how “most police are heroes who do a dangerous job with great integrity.” Sometimes that’s even true, but when it is, it’s a bonus for us — because there are rarely consequences when it isn’t.
And if this happens to you? Maybe, if you’re lucky, and your story is highly relatable to a number of people, you get the sort of outpouring of support and sympathy that Cisco’s owner is getting. But that doesn’t bring your dog back. It doesn’t even do anything to create conditions under which the next person’s dog is any less likely to be shot.