Michael Vick case points up Edward’s ‘two Americas’

by Jim Longworth

Presidential candidate John Edwards theorizes that there are two Americas: one for the wealthy, and one for the poor. It is a new twist on the old “haves and have nots” theme and, to some extent, his point is valid. But depending upon who you talk to, the definition of the two Americas can vary widely.

For some, the divide is between black and white, where disparities often exist in the criminal justice system. For others, we are a nation of men versus women, where salary discrepancies still exist. And for roughly 10 percent of the population, the great schism is between gays and straights over such issues as hate crimes and the right to marry.

For me, the Michael Vick case accentuated something I’ve believed for nearly all my life, that the so-called two Americas also consist of animal lovers versus animal apathists. Certainly apathy is not a crime, but when you turn a blind eye to torture and abuse of any kind, or when you minimize such behavior just because it was visited upon a dog, then you are part of the problem, and must share part of the blame for why it has taken so long to bring animal abusers to justice.

In the late 1800s and early 20th century, white-trash cowards tortured and killed black men without fear of retribution. Why? Because the communities in which they lived were populated by other cowardly whites who didn’t speak up against injustice.

Later on, young disadvantaged women, both black and white, were victims of sterilization by doctors who had the blessing of so-called upstanding, white community leaders. No one spoke up. No one spoke for the girls.

Today, George Bush is spending billions of dollars to kill innocent Iraqi citizens in a campaign that was first aided by Sudanese leaders. That explains why Bush has ignored the genocide in Darfur. But what explains the apathy many Americans have for the Iraqi and Darfur victims?

Simply put, many people have been in denial for many years about many things because they just wouldn’t take the time or muster the courage to voice their opposition. The Vick dogfighting saga is yet one more example of how we as a nation often sit idly by and passively condone evil actions and policies.

Last week I noticed some football fans in Atlanta holding up signs in support of their former quarterback. Meanwhile, a number of sports analysts railed against the excessive punishment given to Vick. After all, they said, it’s not as though Michael had a history of killing dogs. And then there were the two idiot columnists from Sports Illustrated who defended Vick by saying that he had been under the influence of shady characters from his old neighborhood.

Pardon me while I throw up. Michael Vick is a grown man. He didn’t just accidentally hang and electrocute dogs. His dog-fighting ring was a major enterprise where torture and execution were part of an accepted and calculated business model. That’s why Vick’s apologies rang hollow with the Judge, and that’s why Vick will never be rehabilitated.

I don’t usually get mushy or religious in this column, but there’s relevance in the phrase, “Bless the beasts and the children.” Pets and children can’t defend themselves. They can’t say no. They can’t call 911. They are both, in a sense, mute and helpless. The fact is we are all God’s creatures, and abuses against any of them (whether two- or four-legged) should be an affront to everyone.

As I pointed out in my exhaustive report of July 25 ( see:, “past commentaries”) it is estimated that some 40,000 adults are engaged in organized dogfighting, and that means there are thousands more who know about the crimes, but choose not to report them.

If anything positive was derived from the Vick scandal, it is that animal abuse now occupies more space in the newspapers and on TV newscasts. Perhaps such exposure might help apathetic cowards to grow a spine. If you know of someone who is abusing a pet, it is your duty to report the abuser to police. And, next time you write to your local, state or federally elected representative, make sure they know that you demand stiffer sentencing and heftier fines for animal abusers.

Personally, I think Vick got off easy. He didn’t even receive the maximum five-year sentence, which, by the way, should be changed to 10. On the other hand, incarceration for someone like the affluent quarterback is somewhat counterproductive. I would have rather seen him sentenced to permanent work release, and ordered to turn over his estimated $145 million in earnings to help build and sustain no-kill animal shelters and to educate kids about abuse. Instead, he will end up doing a short stint in prison, which I doubt will deter a majority of abusers or impact greatly on young people.

We should all be ashamed that the two Americas still exist. Ashamed that poor people are without proper healthcare. Ashamed that women still make less money than men who do the same job. Ashamed that many African Americans are treated more harshly by police and judges. Ashamed that animal abuse isn’t taken more seriously.

Vick’s sentencing should serve as a wake-up call for us to do something about the ills of society. We must speak for those who can’t. Two Americas are one too many.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” which can be seen on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV 48 (cable channel 15).