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You can't separate pit bull prejudice from racial prejudice

I was very disappointed with Dan Rodricks' column on pit bulls ("Pit bulls: Own them at your risk," May 1). Here are some facts.

•All large dogs are potentially dangerous. They have large jaws and muscles that have the inherent possibly to doing people harm.

•Any animal that is subject to abuse is potentially dangerous.

•If not abused, or trained to be violent, pit bulls are no more potentially dangerous than any other big dog. Notions of mythic pit bull "lock jaw" have been scientifically debunked, and before their recently role as public enemy No. 1 they were family pets in England.

Those who speak of innate pit bull violence are thus showing a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of all domesticated dogs, any of which can turn violent under the right (or in this case, wrong) circumstances.

But it also shows something else. In Baltimore, like many other places, pit bulls are associated with dog fighting and black, urban violence. To say otherwise is dishonest, and the fact that pit bulls are singled out when bigger more powerful dogs like Rottweilers are not to me is clear evidences that some sort of bias is in play. Using the well documented notion of institutional racial bias in the legal system, this implicates the court's claim that pit bulls are "inherently violent."

Empirical data shows the race of the defendant has an impact on judicial rulings, creating harsher judgments and sentences, and if the owner of the pit bull is black, as overwhelming anecdotal evidence would indicate, then the legal system would view the nature of the pit bull attacks quite differently than they view other incidents. Over time, it seems that "pit bull' has becomes a synonym for "black" and thus a similar bias seems to be at play here.

As a black person raised in Baltimore, pit bulls were a central part of the social fabric of my life. The best dog I ever had was a pit bull, and he was the sweetest thing I have ever met. I am confident that if you were to ask the vast majority of pit bull owners in this city, they will tell you the same thing. For black folks like me who grew up with them, we love them because when we were born into a violent world not of our choosing, they protected us, with violence when necessary, but more often they showed the love that let us know they would only use that so called "innate" potential for violence in extreme circumstances.

Some individuals abused these animals and turned them into weapons, an act both deplorable and surprisingly rare given how the proliferation of violent images of pit bulls in popular culture would lead one to believe all pit bulls are ticking time bombs who lash out capriciously. The problem is for every horror story of a baby attacked, there are hundreds of boring stories of pit bulls being wonderful, loyal family dogs that never make the news.

Even if the court saw pit bull attacks caused more damage and happened at a higher rate than other breeds, this a correlation/causation logical fallacy. People who experience violence and poverty disproportionately fight/abuse dogs, and the dogs those people have access to are pit bulls, so of course this correlation would be observed, but that does not mean there is some hidden "mean gene" that caused these outcomes.

Simply put, you put animals in violent conditions, some become violent, but that has no bearing on the "innate" nature of the breed. These arguments and experiences seem to never be entered into the larger discourse around pit bulls, and it is sad The Sun continues the trend with this piece. It seems as if we as a society, and especially Baltimore, wish to avoid the reality that many horrible things happening in violent conditions, and instead of addressing the conditions that make pit bulls violent or make people want to fight dogs, we blame the entire breed and create arbitrary distinction between "good" dogs and "bad" dogs in order to justify our willful ignorance.

I would hope this paper would show more forethought in the future when publishing pieces like this. Since pit bulls cannot speak themselves, perception becomes reality. Anti-pit bull laws and low adoption rates are determined, in large part, by public perception, and when such uninformed arguments like this get exposure, innocent animals can quite possibly die, languishing in shelters or euthanized. I can understand, to an extent, the writer's ignorance on this issues, but what I can not do is excuse it, as lives literally hang in the balance within the context of this discussion. Those lives may not matter to some, but they do to myself and about 99 percent of people of all races who have ever gone beyond there inculcated biases and had a genuine interaction with a pit bull.

Lawrence Grandpre, Baltimore

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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