Inhumane

I recently read Ken Hartnett’s Christmas letter about the Ancient Scribe and Dory, his Angel Dog. The Ancient Scribe was right on the money about our capacity to discover humanity in the presence of animals but to completely fail at it with our fellow man.

Hartnett’s piece also reminded me of how we treat the humans in our jails.

The National Sheriff’s Association — the organization representing rogue sheriffs like Sam Page, David Clarke, and Tom Hodgson, which celebrates the abuses of Customs and Border Patrol officers — has a soft spot for animals.

Yes, the NSA actually endorsed legislation on animal cruelty, arguing that there is a link between animal cruelty and cruelty to humans. And who would disagree?

But the sheriffs don’t appreciate the irony of defending puppies while torturing humans in the county jails they themselves operate.

Not to be outdone by Stetson-hatted hypocrites, last month Donald Trump just signed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT), giving rights to animals that he himself refuses to extend to Central American children in his concentration camps.

But showing concern for animal rights while simultaneously being indifferent to human life and suffering is a feature of laws right here in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts has animal cruelty statutes that provide for up to seven years in prison for animal abuse. In 2016 the Attorney General charged ten people with the mistreatment of over a thousand animals on a farm in Westport.

But when it comes to protecting the state’s prison population, the AG’s office has refused to deploy its own civil rights division to stop an epidemic of jail abuses including suicides and cruel and unusual punishments.

In March 2019 the Animal Legal Defense Fund named Massachusetts state senator Mark Montigny as one of America’s Top Ten Animal Defenders for his sponsorship of the PAWS II Act, a comprehensive set of animal protection legislation.

But even before Montigny’s bill became law, the rights of dogs and cats in the Commonwealth had a leg up —  four legs up, actually — on the rights of their human counterparts. According to Massachusetts General Laws, Part I, Title XX, Chapter 140, Section 137C:

“The mayor of a city, the selectmen of a town, the police commissioner in the city of Boston, a chief of police or an animal control officer may at any time inspect a kennel or cause the inspection of a kennel. If, in the judgment of such person or body, the kennel is not being maintained in a sanitary and humane manner or if records are not properly kept as required by law, such person or body shall, by order, revoke or suspend the license for the kennel.”

That’s right. Kennels may be freely inspected by public officials if conditions are believed to be unsanitary or inhumane. Inspection is a right that not even state legislators can exercise in Massachusetts “corrections” facilities.

For dogs, state law likewise regulates confinement:

“No person owning or keeping a dog shall chain or tether a dog for longer than 5 hours in a 24–hour period and outside from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., unless the tethering is for not more than 15 minutes and the dog is not left unattended by the owner, guardian or keeper.”

Right again. “No excessive solitary” for dogs is written into Massachusetts law — while we wait for the courts to decide if the overuse of solitary confinement on mentally-ill prisoners in Bristol County represents cruel and unusual punishment, as a Prisoners’ Legal Services suit asserts.

Under Massachusetts law, a dog must be given adequate space to move around in and environmental considerations (including heat and cold) are strictly regulated. Several specific types of inhumane treatment are prohibited:

“(1) filthy and dirty confinement conditions including, but not limited to, exposure to excessive animal waste, garbage, dirty water, noxious odors, dangerous objects that could injure or kill a dog upon contact or other circumstances that could cause harm to a dog’s physical or emotional health;

(2) taunting, prodding, hitting, harassing, threatening or otherwise harming a tethered or confined dog; and

(3) subjecting a dog to dangerous conditions, including attacks by other animals.”

No such protections exist for the safety and well-being of humans confined in Massachusetts jails and prisons. Last year we discovered that corrections officers had organized racist gladiator fights in the Dartmouth jail.

Finally, it boggles my mind that “inhumane” is the adjective we use to describe the mistreatment of animals — but not of fellow humans who, shown no pity, instead are believed to “deserve what they get” in the American carceral system.

But there is a solution. By simply re-designating jails as “kennels” — a name change prison rights advocates point out already describes conditions in state prisons and jails — human prisoners in Massachusetts can finally receive the legal rights their four-legged friends already enjoy.

It’s a crazy idea, I know. But not half as insane as what we do to our sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, friends and neighbors, whom we abuse in filthy, inhumane conditions with no intention of ever rehabilitating them.

 

Changing Names

Both slavery and the genocide of Native Americans were committed as soon as colonists began arriving in the Americas. It has taken White America over 400 years to begin a process of self-examination for its crimes — and as a group we’re not accustomed to apology or introspection. As the Town of Dartmouth approaches its 400th anniversary, it is only now looking at two issues related to its depictions of Native Americans. One is historical signage now under review by the Historical Commission. The other is the town’s school mascot, the “Indian.” Jim Hijiya is an emeritus professor of history at UMass Dartmouth, lives in Dartmouth, and offers a thoughtful take on changing the mascot’s name.

by Jim Hijiya

Whether to keep an Indian as a school mascot is a hard question to answer — at least it has been for me. I’ve changed my mind twice already.

I was born and raised in Spokane, Washington, less than twenty miles down the highway from Eastern Washington State College. My sister went to Eastern in the late 1960s, and I rooted for the sports teams from her school. Those teams were called the Savages, and their logo featured a Native American who did not look friendly.

At the time I didn’t see anything wrong with that. It was what I grew up with. I was used to it, and so was everybody else, except maybe some Indians, and nobody cared what they thought. Go, Savages!

Then I went off to college, followed by graduate school. In the 1970s I heard that Eastern had changed its mascot. They weren’t the Savages anymore; they were now the Eagles. “Eastern Eagles” — kind of poetic.

Some of Eastern’s alumni complained thunderously about the treacherous and spineless abandonment of tradition; but I, having spent a few years away from home, now thought the change made sense. The word savages, when associated with Native Americans, did not reflect kindly on those Natives. It seemed unfair.

However, at about the same time, I heard about other name changes for which I had less sympathy. The Stanford University Indians had switched their name to the Cardinal (singular, with no S, indicating a shade of red, not a flock of birds). On the other side of the continent, the Dartmouth College Indians had changed their name to the Big Green. One red, one green, no Indian.

I thought that this was going too far: political correctness run amok. Sure, Savages was derogatory. Redskins was not much better. But Indians? What’s wrong with that? You insult somebody by calling her or him a “savage,” but there’s nothing wrong with being called an “Indian.”

That’s what I still thought when I came to teach history at Southeastern Massachusetts University in 1978. My neighbors had kids who went to Dartmouth High, so I tagged along with them to football games on Thanksgiving. With untempered enthusiasm I rooted for the Dartmouth Indians.

But then, over the years, I changed my mind again. I read more and thought more and came to a different conclusion.

Indians are a race of human beings, like whites or blacks or Asians or Hispanics. However, I don’t know of any sports team named after whites, blacks, Asians, or Hispanics. “The Orientals”? “The Fighting Caucasians”? I can’t even imagine giving a team a name like that. So why do we have “Indians”?

Then I got to thinking about who gets used as mascots. Most often they’re animals: Atlanta Falcons, Boston Bruins, Chicago Bulls, Detroit Tigers. Sometimes mascots are human beings but ones who aren’t around anymore: USC Trojans, Bishop Stang Spartans, Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Pirates, New Bedford Whalers.

Some mascots are beings that never existed: Giants (from New York or San Francisco) or, closer to home, Blue Devils from Fairhaven. The Boston Celtics and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame both are represented by leprechauns.

We have, then, three common kinds of mascots: (1) animals, (2) people from vanished civilizations, and (3) creatures of fantasy. At first glance, the Dartmouth Indian may seem to belong to Category 2. He wears paint on his face and feathers in his hair, which not many people do any more, at least not at the office or the supermarket. He seems to belong to the past. The Dartmouth High School Student Handbook says that the mascot recognizes “the Native American Heritage of the South Coast,” and “heritage” comes from the past.

Actual Indians, however, exist abundantly in the present, which causes a problem for Dartmouth High. When your school mascot shares a name with living people, you need to be careful not to make that mascot look bad. The Student Handbook prohibits “dress, gestures and/or any other activities or characterizations that portray the Dartmouth Indians in a stereotypical, negative manner.” For example, students attending games are forbidden to do the Tomahawk Chop, which makes Indians look like bloodthirsty savages.

The image of the Dartmouth Indian is not explicitly “negative,” but it is “stereotypical.” It has to be. No one icon can accurately depict a group as numerous and various as Native Americans. The Dartmouth Indian has to stand in place of many people who don’t look much like him: women, for example. (I can’t think of any school mascots who are distinctively female.)

The Dartmouth Indian is a man in the prime of life, and he looks vigorous. Though he lacks armor and armament, he appears to be a worthy adversary for the Bishop Stang Spartan with his helmet or the New Bedford Whaler with his harpoon. This is why he symbolizes the Dartmouth High School sports teams: he embodies physical prowess.

This is also why he does not symbolize the school math team or debate team, who, whatever other strengths they possess, are not distinguished by their athleticism. Those teams don’t call themselves “the Indians.” They call themselves “Dartmouth.”

But why can’t the Dartmouth Indian smile? Why does he look so serious?

Because that’s his job. Like a Lion or a Tiger, he is supposed to scare you. He is the embodiment of a boast, saying, in effect, “I am strong, and I will beat you!” Consider the fact that Pirates, Corsairs, and Raiders are sports mascots. When they roamed the earth as actual people, they were loathed as robbers and murderers; but now that they’re safely deceased, we honor them as symbols of martial dexterity. Even the leprechaun is pugnacious: the Notre Dame mascot has his fists up, spoiling for a fight, and the Boston Celtics symbol has a hand resting on a cudgel. You don’t want to mess with these guys. And you don’t want to mess with the Dartmouth Indian.

But here’s the problem. The Dartmouth Indian exploits and reinforces an old stereotype of the Indian as a killer. He may not be called a “Brave” (like Atlanta) or a “Warrior” (like Golden State), but he sure looks like one, enough so that he makes some fans want to perform the Tomahawk Chop. He makes it easy for us to continue to believe that Indians are all about battle. We remember them mainly for the same reason we remember the Trojans and the Spartans: they fought wars.

For four hundred years, Indians seemed dangerous to Americans who weren’t Natives. As the whites pushed Natives off the land and subjected them to alien rule, Indians fought back, killed some of the invaders, terrified the rest, and created a lasting image of the Indian as a menace. That image was used to justify exterminating Natives and taking their land. Even after the Indians had been subdued, their threatening image was perpetuated in books and movies. This, then, is why Indians, unlike all the other human races, serve as mascots for athletic teams: because of their reputation for violence.

If the mascot of Dartmouth High sports teams were a Bear or a Viking or a Giant, there would be nothing wrong with his seeming to be a potential threat to public safety. However, he’s not. He’s an Indian. By reminding us that some Indians, sometimes, were fighters, he lets us forget that most Indians, most of the time, devoted themselves to peaceable pursuits like farming or hunting or caring for children — or playing sports.

Try to imagine a different kind of Indian mascot: say, one looking like the picture on the Sacajawea dollar (a coin, by the way, that you never see), which commemorates the guide and interpreter for Lewis and Clark. A woman would be just as typical of Native Americans as the current Dartmouth Indian. However, I don’t think she would be as inspiring to the football team. For that we want somebody rough and tough.

But does it have to be an Indian?

There are, of course, arguments for keeping the high school mascot. For example, some people insist that the Dartmouth Indian honors the original inhabitants of our region. The high school handbook says that the Dartmouth Schools “shall be responsible for educating Dartmouth students on the history and important role that the Apponagansett-Wampanoag” played in the history of Dartmouth, so perhaps the mascot is supposed to be part of a program teaching students about Native Americans.

But does that happen? Maybe at some point in the students’ education a teacher tells them something about the Apponagansetts. If it’s not an integral part of the curriculum, however, I doubt that students remember much. Are there courses for them to take in subjects like Native American History, Conversational Wampanoag, or Indians in Contemporary Society? I don’t think so.

Is there, then, any reason to believe that Dartmouth students know more about Indians than do students at New Bedford High or Bishop Stang? Probably not. What Dartmouth students know about Indians, I suspect, is what they have seen on their uniforms or green sweatshirts. But isn’t that granting “honor” to Indians on the cheap?

Before we make our judgment on the Dartmouth Indian, there is one very important question that we ought to ask: What do actual Indians think? I have read that some local Native people love the mascot (though they might not like having it called a “mascot”) and want to keep it. I can understand that. The Dartmouth Indian is a symbol of courage and strength, somebody who will not be pushed around, somebody to make you proud.

If you wrap yourself in the image of the warrior, however, you trap yourself in that same image. It’s hard to look like a warrior and also look like, say, a novelist or a nurse. Thus the symbol narrows our vision of what Native people are; every stereotype, even a positive one, carries a price tag. By perpetuating the idea that Indians are warriors, we give fans of the Atlanta Braves and Florida State Seminoles a stronger excuse for doing the Tomahawk Chop. Warriors and tomahawks go together.

This is probably why I have read about not only Native Americans who want to preserve the Dartmouth Indian but also about ones who want to get rid of Indian mascots altogether. The National Congress of American Indians, for example, has applauded Maine’s recent law banning all Indian mascots at public schools in the state. I don’t know whether the NCAI accurately represents Native opinion, but I suspect that it represents a significant chunk of it.

Now I would like to know what tribal councils and large numbers of individual Indians in southeastern Massachusetts believe. If there is a consensus or even a strong majority opinion among the people most affected by the existence of the Dartmouth Indian, then I think we ought to let their judgment weigh heavily on the scales. I hope that in its consideration of this issue, the Dartmouth School Committee will seek out several organizations and many individuals to find out what Native people want.

I think we all should do a cost/benefit analysis. The benefit of having an Indian as the symbol of Dartmouth sports is obvious: it associates Native Americans with courage and strength. The cost of having an Indian mascot, in contrast, is not obvious but hidden: you can’t see its effect right away, and you have to think about it before you can see it coming. Associating Indians with physical struggle perpetuates the notion that fighting is what Indians are all about. I think there’s more to them than that.

I can understand why many Dartmouth High School alumni don’t want to give up the Indian. He was part of their high school experience, they cherish that experience, and so they cherish the Indian. What I hope they realize now, however, is that he was not an essential part of that experience. If the mascot had been an Eagle or a Pirate, the students’ lives at Dartmouth High would have been pretty much the same. They would have learned math and history (or not), enjoyed the football and basketball games (or not). The mascot doesn’t make much difference. It’s the school itself that counts.

If Dartmouth High gets a new mascot, people will get used to it, though it may take a generation or two for everybody to come around. At Eastern Washington University nowadays, students cheer wholeheartedly for the Eagles. A few still wish the Savages were back on the warpath, but not many. A nephew of mine graduated from Stanford a year ago, and he didn’t even know that his university’s teams had once been called the Indians instead of the Cardinal.

How soon we forget. And how fortunately.

Let us remember 9/11

Let us remember 9/11. Today we remember the victims who died in New York, Washington, and in Pennsylvania. In the years immediately following 9/11 we were told that as a nation we had come together, that we were stronger for our national trials — that our democracy had triumphed over terrorism. It was, unfortunately, a short-lived lie. Today we hardly remember the world that preceded 9/11.

The American economy has been ravaged by trillions spent on wars that have never ended. Newborns on September 11th, 2001 are now eligible to vote. The Bill of Rights has been shredded by wiretaps, ethnic and racial profiling, the Patriot Act, police militarization, the end of habeus corpus, torture, kidnapping, illegal detentions, secret courts, and assassination teams that have targeted even American citizens. We have declared war on millions of people in a dozen covert wars we fight by incinerating civilians with drones. Our wars of choice have destroyed half a dozen countries and made millions of refugees flee their homes.

The world we inhabit today is a twilight dream, a fantasy land in which evolution competes with creationism, multiculturalism clashes with nativism, and freedom challenges authoritarianism. We have for so long lived in denial of American slavery and imperialism — is it any wonder we are so good at denying science and verifiable fact?

Useful lessons will likely never be drawn from 9/11. Every print and video remembrance presents the saccharine, the patriotic, the triumphal. No one wants to know why so much of the world hates us. And if we did we couldn’t be bothered for an honest answer. No, they hate us for our democracy.

Let us remember 9/11. This is a day for candlelight memorials and somber speeches. We’ll trot out patriotic stories of death and sacrifice, ask each other where we were when the Twin Towers fell, mouth prayers invoking god and first responders, vow to never let it happen again, then cloak ourselves in the righteousness of martyrdom.

Let us remember 9/11. Next year there will be another anniversary. Another year of perpetual war, of drone attacks, meddling in the affairs of other nations, the squandering of national treasure on war, the loss of even more civil liberties.

Let us remember 9/11. But let us also regard with honest, open eyes the America we have created in its wake.