Amazon.Com Supporting Animal Cruelty
by Jean-Pierre Ruiz
Jean-Pierre Ruiz is a Washington State-based attorney, practicing animal law and corporate law for non-profit organizations. Jean-Pierre received his engineering degree from McGill University, and his law degree from IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law where he was on the Dean’s List. Jean-Pierre was a member of the school’s nationally-recognized Trial Advocacy Team. Jean-Pierre clerked for Judge Warren Wolfson, author of numerous trial advocacy books. Jean-Pierre combines his passion for animal well-being with empathy, sympathy and compassion He inspires trust, confidence and believes in zealous, but civil, representation. Jean-Pierre is a member of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
In an age where the ethics and morality of executives have been called into ever greater question, where the means justify the end, and extracting the very last penny from the marketplace is more important than making ethically and morally sound decisions, it should come as no surprise that Amazon.com would rather make a few more pennies than take a stand against animal abuse and cruelty.
In the last few weeks, the press has been reporting that Amazon.com was selling Feathered Warrior, a cockfighting magazine. However, today’s perusal of Amazon.com’s choices also reveals such “great” reading as:
The Game Cock: From The Shell To The Pit - A Comprehensive Treatise On Gameness, Selecting, Mating, Breeding, Walking and Conditioning, etc. (History of Cockfighting Series) - $40.45
The Art of Cockfigthing – A Handbook for Beginners and Old Timers - $34.99
Cockfighters: The Interviews (DVD) - $85
Handling and Nursing the Gamecock - $26.95
The Game Cock – Being a Practical Treatise on Breeding, Rearing, Training, Feeding, Trimming, Mains, Heeling, Spurs, etc. - $26.95
(See, the link to Amazon.com's "choice" literature below)
Cockfighting is an “activity” involving two roosters thrown into a pit, called a cockpit, to fight -- sometimes to the death. These are birds specially bred for aggressiveness toward other males, stamina and strength and are “equipped” with 3-inch long razor-sharp metal or plastic spurs, resembling curved ice-picks, which the birds are taught to aggressively use. Fights can last from a few minutes to over half an hour and usually results in the death of the one or both of the “combatants.” . Common injuries include punctured lungs, broken bones, and pierced eyes.
Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states, and transporting the birds or cockfighting paraphernalia across state lines is now a federal offense. Of course, that is not say that cockfighting (much like dog fighting) does not go on. Law enforcement has connected cockfighting to drug use and distribution, as well as acts of violence. However, the primary purpose of cockfighting is gambling and thousands of dollars can be wagered on a single fight.
Amazon.com, led by its CEO Jeff Bezos, has argued that it has a right to sell these items under the Free Speech clause of the Constitution. However, Mr. Bezos forgets that just because you have a “right” does not make it “right.” Perhaps Mr. Bezos believes that the means justifies the end, and damn the moral or ethical stance, when it comes to increasing Amazon.com’s balance sheet and, no doubt, his personal bank account.
For the fiscal year of 2008, Amazon.com reported that revenues increased by 39% to a total of $14.84B (yes, billions), while profits increased by 69% to a total of $655MM. Amazon.com does not break revenues and profits it makes on each item it sells.
The Humane Society of the United States provides a link to send Mr. Bezos an email requesting that he stop selling animal cruelty books and DVDs (see the link below).
For more info: Amazon.com's link to cockfighting books and magazine: www.amazon.com/Grit-and-Steel/dp/B00007AXOU/ref=sr_1_1; HSUS link to send Mr. Bezos a letter: community.hsus.org/campaign/US_2008_amazon_fighting4
In my last posting, I discussed how Amazon.com is breaking federal law and supporting animal cruelty by selling certain material depicting acts of, and advocating for, animal cruelty. Some people have interpreted my position to mean that I am trying to censor what Amazon.com sells. They are partly right, and partly wrong.
Selling material which depicts, and advocates for, animal cruelty is a violation of federal laws
The material presently on sale on Amazon.com’s website both depicts animal cruelty and advocates for it. For example, Feathered Warrior advertises fighting animals and paraphernalia – including steroids and other drugs for the animals - for sale, as well as the venue of upcoming fights.
Every state has laws against animal cruelty. Furthermore, there are two federal laws which are central to this issue. Namely, the Animal Welfare Act and the Federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act (See, “For more info” for a link).
Section 2156 of the Animal Welfare Act states:
(c) Use of Postal Service or other interstate instrumentality for promoting or furthering animal fighting venture
It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly use the mail service of the United States Postal Service or any instrumentality of interstate commerce for commercial speech for purposes of promoting or in any other manner furthering an animal fighting venture except as performed outside the limits of the States of the United States.
Section 48 of the Federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act states:
(a) Creation, Sale, or Possession.— Whoever knowingly creates, sells, or possesses a depiction of animal cruelty with the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.
(b) Exception.— Subsection (a) does not apply to any depiction that has serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value.
(c) Definitions.— In this section—
(1) the term “depiction of animal cruelty” means any visual or auditory depiction, including any photograph, motion-picture film, video recording, electronic image, or sound recording of conduct in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed, if such conduct is illegal under Federal law or the law of the State in which the creation, sale, or possession takes place, regardless of whether the maiming, mutilation, torture, wounding, or killing took place in the State; and
(See, “For more info” for a link)
The Humane Society of the United States has sued Amazon.com alleging that this latter is in violation, among others, of both of these acts. (See, “For more info” for a link)
Amazon.com has responded that it is entitled to sell this material from a legal standpoint (regardless of whether it’s moral and/or ethical) because the acts infringe on its right to free speech which is enshrined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution and states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
(See, “For more info” for a link)
Free Speech v. the Animal Welfare Act and the Federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act
It is important to recognize that the Government does not limit speech. We are still free to say, write and publish about anything we like. Rather, the Government can only enact laws that punish certain types of speech.
It could be argued – and often is – that any limitation on free speech ultimately results in censorship and tyranny. If right, the opposite of the argument must necessarily be true. That is, that no limitation on free speech ultimately results in anarchy. Regardless of one’s opinions on the subject, the US Supreme Court has placed limits on the concept of free speech. In essence, the Court placed a value on certain forms of speech relative to what we consider other ideals such as public safety, national security, justice, etc. Hence, the First Amendment does not protect statements which are said with the intent to provoke violent acts or incite illegal actions. Furthermore, the First Amendment does not protect libelous or slanderous statements, or obscene materials. The First Amendment also does not protect speech which conflicts with other legitimate and compelling social or governmental interests where regulations are content-neutral. Contested speech must have religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value to be protected.
At issue from a legal standpoint, therefore, is whether the First Amendment will “protect” the right to sell material which depicts, and advocates for, animal cruelty, or whether the Court will recognize the Government’s compelling interest in prohibiting the sale of such material. That is, does material which depicts animal cruelty has any religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value.
A case presently before the US Supreme Court may be partially determinative of HSUS’s case against Amazon.com which is still before the court.
US v. Stevens
In 1999 a federal court sentenced a Virginia man to three years in prison for selling dog fighting videos in violation of the Federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act (the Act).
In US v. Stevens, the Defendant – a pit bull enthusiast – was convicted by a Federal Court in Pennsylvania of violating the Act for selling videos of pit bull fights and pit bulls attacking other animals. The trial court determined that the videos had no religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value and sentenced Stevens to 37 months in jail. On appeal, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal was unwilling to create a new category of unprotected speech and ruled that the Act violated the First Amendment because the Government had failed to show a compelling interest, nor show that the Act was narrowly tailored to achieve such interest, or that it provides the least restrictive means to achieve the Government's interest. The Court noted that the Government had failed to show a sufficient link between the law and the Government’s interest in preventing animal abuse, unlike existing state laws criminalizing animal cruelty.
Before the US Supreme Court, the Government will argue that depiction of animal cruelty is not worthy of protection under the First Amendment. In turn, Stevens will argue that showing the proper way to train a pit bull to hunt and further showing pit bull fights to show the difference between a pit bull trained to fight and one trained to hunt has educational value.
If the Court agrees with the Government, it will mark the first time since 1982 that a category of speech is excluded from protection. In 1982, the Court unanimously upheld a New York law banning the sale of child pornography under the theory that the Government had a compelling interest in protecting children from sexual abuse and exploitation.
Regardless of the Court’s ruling, Amazon.com should stop selling this material
First, it important to note that Amazon.com’s own policies are that it will not sell a broad range of objectionable, but lawful, material including sexually explicit material, crime-scene photos, human organs or body parts (?), items that promote racism, hatred or religious intolerance, and anything else “[Amazon.com] deems offensive.” (See, “For more info” for a link). In fact, since HSUS filed suit, Amazon.com removed a video titled “Unleashed” from its website. “Unleashed” is a two-hour video in which some 20 dogs are intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded or killed in some 12 dog fights. Some of the dogs in the video are puppies, with one being described as being 11 months old. Over the course of the two-hour video, “Unleashed” depicts thousands of injuries, including one dog having his throat ripped out. Other injuries include large pieces of skins ripped from dogs’ shoulders, necks, faces, the top of their heads. Escape is impossible as the dogs are forcefully kept inside the pit. The final “chapter” of “Unleashed” contains more than 30 minutes of 10 seconds clips alternating between dog fight sequences and clips of nude women undertaking various sexual acts.
I think we can all agree that Amazon.com is selling this material in order to make money. In fact, the “Feathered Warrior” consistently ranks in the top 1% of all magazine subscriptions sold on Amazon.com.
Perhaps we can also agree that there is a difference between material that examines acts we deem immoral and/or unethical (such as WWI, Genocide, 9/11, animal fighting, etc.) from a historical perspective, and material which shows how to perform those acts. I would hope that none of the people who posted comments advocating for Amazon.com’s “right” to sell material depicting, and advocating for, animal cruelty, would also advocate for Amazon.com’s “right” to sell material which would show people how to build a bomb, plant it on the premises of a federal building, and detonate it undetected; or fly a jumbo jet into a sky scrapper; or, run a children pornographic ring; and on, and on.
The connection between acts of animal cruelty and acts of human violence are well documented. For example, a 1983 study noted that more than a third of the children referred to New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services for suspected child abuse were abusive to animals. A 1995 noted that 32% of the pet-owning victims of domestic abuse reported that one or more of their children had hurt or killed a pet. A subsequent study conducted in 1997 reported that 50 of the largest shelters for battered women in the United States found that 85% of women and 63% of children entering shelters discussed incidents of pet abuse in the family. Another study in 1997 by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University found that 70% of all animal abusers have committed at least one other criminal offense and that almost 40% had committed violent crimes against people. The study also found that over a 20-year period, a group of individuals who had abused animals as youths were five times more likely to commit violent crimes, four times more likely to commit property crimes and three times more likely to have drug or disorderly conduct offenses than a matched group of non-animal abusers In fact, the FBI now considers animal cruelty to one of the predictors of violence and considers past animal abuse when profiling serial killers. The US Department of Justice emphasizes the importance of including information about past animal abuse when assessing youth who are at risk of committing inter-personal violence. (See, links at “For more info”).
Therefore, I would argue that, from an ethical and moral point of view, Amazon.com should stop selling material which depicts, and advocates for, acts of animal cruelty.
In the end, each of us will make a choice as to what activities propel us forward as a species worthy of survival. I do not believe that acts of animal cruelty profit us as a species or as a society. And since cruelty to animals is linked to acts of human violence, perhaps acts of kindness to animals will lead to acts of kindness toward one another and a more peaceful world.
Finally, my two dogs are pleased to announce that they are indeed treated very well (see picture) and wish every dog out there happy trails.
In my next blog, we’ll take a look at the world of animal fighting and its documented effect on our society.
For more info: Animal Welfare Act: www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/publications_and_reports.shtml; Federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act: thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D; HSUS's complaint: www.animallaw.info/pleadings/pbusdcamazon_hsus.htm; US Constitution: www.usconstitution.net/const.html#Am1; Amazon.com's policies: www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html; Domestic violence and cruelty to animals, F. R. Ascione: www.vachss.com/guest_dispatches/ascione_2.html; The Abuse of Animals and Domestic Violence, F. R. Ascione: www.vachss.com/guest_dispatches/ascione_1.html; The Care of Pets Within Child Abusing Families, L. DeViney, J. Dickert, R. Lockwood, 1983 - International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems 4(4), 321-336; PAWS - The Animal Abuse - Human Violence Link: www.paws.org/help/report/connection.php; Animal Cruelty: Pathway to Violence Against People, K. M. Heide, Altimara Press (2003); Cruelty to Animals and Interpersonal Violence: Readings in Research and Application, F. R. Ascione, Purdue University (1998).
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