CI: Animal Rights, Human Wrongs and the Limits of the Law

March 26, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Criminal Injustice Series, Eco-Justice, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, What People are Doing to Change the World

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Animal Rights, Human Wrongs and the Limits of the Law
by nancy a heitzeg

For Inesperado ~

On March 19, 2014, Joe Drape and the New York Times published the following article, “PETA Accuses Two Trainers of Cruelty to Horses.” The trainers in question were Steve Asmussen, who is second in career victories and racing’s fifth all time $$ winner,, and his right hand man Scott Blasi. The complaints come as the result of an undercover investigation (with 7 hours of video) at Asmussen’s barns at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, and Saratoga Race Course in New York. PETA filed a 285 page complaint with both state agencies and federal authorities charging that Asmussen  “forced injured and/or suffering horses to race and train.” Among the infractions documented in the video (PETA quoted and paraphrased below):

  • “Although it’s approved only as a prescription medication for horses with hypothyroidism, the drug thyroxine was being administered to many, if not all, horses in Asmussen’s New York stable, without any apparent testing or evidence of any thyroid condition. (This is the same drug linked to the death of 7 Bob Baffert – trained horses in a sixteen month period ). This drug was recklessly administered seemingly just to speed up metabolism—not for any therapeutic purpose.
  • Lasix—a controversial drug banned in Europe on race days—was injected into “basically all” of Asmussen’s horses who were being raced or timed in New York. A powerful drug meant to prevent pulmonary bleeding in the lungs during extreme exercise, Lasix is a diuretic that can serve as a masking agent for other drugs and also dehydrates horses to make them lose weight and run faster. One of New York State’s top horse-racing veterinarians admitted on camera to PETA’s investigator that Lasix is a performance-enhancing medication.
  • Horses’ legs showed multiple scars from being burned with liquid nitrogen―a process called freeze-firing―and burned with other irritating “blistering” chemicals, purportedly to stimulate blood flow to their sore legs.

  • Horses were also given muscle relaxants, sedatives, and other potent pharmaceuticals to be used for treating ailments such as ulcers, lameness, and inflammation, at times even when the animals had no apparent symptoms.
  • Some horses were reportedly electro-shocked with concealed buzzers. One of Asmussen’s trainers, Scott Blasi, jokingly called his top jockey, Ricardo Santana,  a “machine rider”―a nickname for riders who shock horses. And Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas laughed as he described how, at New Mexico’s Ruidoso Downs racetrack, it was like “a full-blown orchestra. Zzz. Zzz. Zzz. Zzz. Everybody had one.”
  • Of particular note was the abuse suffered by Nehro, a horse that came in second in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. What race enthusiasts and reporters never knew was that just a few years later, Nehro was racing and training on chronically painful hooves with holes in them. One of the hooves was, at one point, held together with superglue…yet Nehro was kept on the track and forced to participate in workouts. Just two years after that Derby finish, Nehro developed colic and went mad from pain. He was euthanized at Churchill Downs on the day of the 2013 Kentucky Derby.”
  • PETA also accused Asmussen of employing undocumented workers, requiring them to use false names on Internal Revenue Service forms and conspiring with Blasi to produce false identification documents, according to complaints filed with state and federal agencies.

In the immediate aftermath,  Scott Blasi has been fired by Asmussen Stables, and Asmussen himself was removed  as one of the finalists for the Racing Hall of Fame. Zayat Stables  (owners of Nehro) has terminated Steve Asmussen and moved all 12 of its horses that were previously in the trainer’s care. 3-year-old Finesse – ridden by Ricardo Santana and trained by Steve Asmussan – collapsed and died of an apparent “cardiac issue” on March 21 after finishing second in a race at Oaklawn. And, the New York State Gaming Commission, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the New Mexico Racing Commissions have launched investigations. Demands increased again for federal oversight of horse-racing and the passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013 (Senate Bill 973 and House Bill 2012). To be sure, more to follow.

For even causal observers of horse-racing, these revelations, however disturbing, were no surprise. Horse-racing is the USA is not the “sport of kings” but rather a marginalized meat-grinder industry which chews up both young and old horses at an alarming rate. It is a loosely regulated association of state “gaming” commissions with little Federal oversight, (and in fact, Federal exemptions to profit from  off-track and internet betting). an industry where serial dopers are Eclipse Award winners and mufti-millionaire breeders may neglect and starve their horses. U.S. horse racing is awash in drugs – both legal and otherwise. Lasix, steroids, Clenbuterol, cortisone, lidocaine, mevipacaine, EPO, cobra venom, “milk-shaking”/TCO2, amphetamines and vodka injections are just a partial listing of licit and banned substances used regularly in racing.

Mostly, it is an industry that kills off its’ athletes. Some of the dead are famous like the ill-fated Barbaro, Eight Belles who died in the dirt with two broken ankles after finishing second in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, and Go For Wand, whose breakdown in the 1990 Breeder’s Cup Distaff was one racing’s most gruesome nationally televised moments. Most of the dead are lesser known – some former stakes horses, like Inesperado. that have fallen down through the claiming ranks, others are mere 2 year olds, and many are old geldings raced endlessly long past their prime. The majority of horses die in low level claiming races or during training with little fanfare and perhaps less remorse. They have inelegant names and ignominious ends like Private Details whose breakdown caused a 5 horse pile-up at Aqueduct or Mr. Smee, a five year old gelding who broke a hind leg, went through the rail and drown in the in-field lake at Lone Star Park.

For obvious reasons, there is little transparency here. The industry only recently began to collect and does still not regularly publish national fatality data, but an average of 24 horses suffer fatal breakdowns at tracks across the country every week, – more than 3 Dead per Day — and 10,000 broken-down thoroughbreds are sent to slaughter every year. (Please see the excellent New York Times investigation, Breakdown: Death and Disarray at America’s Race Tracks).

For jaded observers, questions remain as to whether or not this will finally finally finally — how many do you need? – be the wake-up call that leads to federal oversight and long needed horse-racing reforms. But no one is holding their breath. The truth of the matter is this – perhaps the harshest legal consequences to result from the ensuing investigations will be for the Federal  violations around use of undocumented workers and falsification of tax records. Even if the accusations of animal cruelty meet the legal bar (and they should), this case will most likely reveal again, that when it comes to animals, there are many limits to the law.


Revelations: Prophet

September 29, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, What People are Doing to Change the World

Marry the Movement #intersectionality #race #gender #class #sexuality #ability #age #markersofdifference

June 27, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Education, Immigration, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, Poverty, Prison Industrial Complex, Voting Rights, White Privilege

Marry the Movement from Southerners on New Ground (SONG) on Vimeo.

From Southerners on New Ground:

The Supreme Court of the United States has issued many opinions affecting the lives of marginalized people across the country this week. We know that here in the South our SONG family will be grappling with the reality of our lives, many of which have been made worse by the Supreme Court’s rulings affecting Affirmative Action, the Voting Rights Act, the Indian Child Welfare Act and the 5th Amendment.

While the court also struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop 8, SONG knows that all the good that can radiate out from those decisions is because the climate around the lives and realities of LGBTQ people in our country has changed. Why has it changed? Because LGBTQ people and our families, friends and allies have made it change. We have come out, we have transformed our lives and each other, and we have built power in countless ways. That work makes these moments happen AND we still have so much work to do together as LGBTQ people… the regression and contradictions of the decisions affecting People of Color in this country highlight that reality.

We know that in times like these we need each other and that we must turn to each other in the spirit of our collective survival. There is still much work to be done in order to bring the reality of true justice home to the South: so join us in Marrying the Movement: until every LGBTQ person has full dignity, safety, and liberation.

Four Burning Questions for Dean Spade, professor, lawyer, civil rights activist

April 10, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, Poverty, Prison Industrial Complex, Workers' Rights

An interview with Dean Spade excerpted from McGill Reporter:

This year it’s ten years since same-sex marriage was first possible in Canada and the US Supreme Court will soon rule on the question. What is so troublesome about the push for same-sex marriage?

The same-sex marriage agenda in the U.S. has been heavily critiqued by a wide variety of queer and trans activists because it fails to meaningfully address the key material problems facing queer and trans people, such as criminalization, immigration enforcement, poverty, health care access and homelessness, while it consumes enormous resources. It also has been a conservative shift in queer and trans politics, which has moved away from feminist and anti-racist critiques of marriage as a terrible and unfair way to distribute life chances and toward a conservative celebration of marriage as key to healthy families. This has happened alongside a right wing push in the U.S. to blame poverty on people’s failure to marry and to further cut poverty alleviation programs. In the U.S., after same-sex marriage is legal, queer and trans people will still face the same problems of a racist and violent growing immigration enforcement system, a growing wealth divide, and racist mass imprisonment. Some people who have immigration status or wealth to share with a partner will benefit, but the queer and trans people in the worst situations will still be facing the same dangers.

You’ve expressed serious concerns about trans people’s push for formal legal equality, such as their inclusion in protection from hate crime. What’s wrong with that goal?

Hate crime laws that provide more resources to law enforcement and/or enhance criminal penalties have been critiqued by many trans organizations and activists because they do nothing to prevent attacks against trans people but they expand the criminal punishment system which is the most significant source of violence against trans people in the U.S. They build that system in our names, and that system has been growing rapidly for several decades, such that now the US is the most imprisoning country in the world, with five per cent of the world’s population and 25 per cent of the world’s prisoners. A trans movement that is really about reducing harm and violence to trans people has to be an anti-criminalization movement, and a movement that doesn’t just try to get the law to say something our lives are meaningful, but instead seeks to dismantle legal systems that are killing us.

In your organizing and activism, you follow a different approach. Tell us about that.

I’m part of trans activism and organizing that centers poverty and racism. This work aims to analyze what is actually shortening trans people’s lives and work on changing those material conditions, so it centers trans people experiencing imprisonment, poverty, immigration enforcement and other life and death issues. It seeks to provide immediate support to people in those conditions, to dismantle systems that create those dangers, and to build systems and ways of being together that actually give people what they need.

What would be a major victory or advance for you on the path towards greater justice for trans people?

I’ll name a few of the things people in the US are working on that would be a significant benefit to trans people’s well-being: decriminalizing prostitution, stopping federal programs where local police forces turn immigrants they arrest over to the immigration authorities, ending exclusion of trans health care from health insurance programs, getting rid of surgery requirements for changing gender on ID, decriminalizing drugs, ending “3 strikes” laws, getting rid of sex offender registries. These are all vitally important efforts to address the violence trans people are facing, and they are part of broader trans political visions of a world without prisons, border, or poverty.

Tennessee Advances Legislation That Would Tie Welfare To Children’s Grades

April 02, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Intersectionality, Poverty

From Think Progress:

Two Tennessee lawmakers introduced legislation that would tie welfare assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to the educational performance of students who benefit from it, and the legislation was approved by committees in both the state House and Senate last week.
Under the legislation brought by two Republicans, a student who doesn’t not make “satisfactory progress” in school would cost his or her family up to 30 percent of its welfare assistance, the Knoxville News and Sentinel reported:

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah. It calls for a 30 percent reduction in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to parents whose children are not making satisfactory progress in school.

As amended, it would not apply when a child has a handicap or learning disability or when the parent takes steps to try improving the youngster’s school performance — such as signing up for a “parenting class,” arranging a tutoring program or attending a parent-teacher conference.

When Campfield introduced the legislation in January, he said parents have “gotten away with doing absolutely nothing to help their children” in school. “That’s child abuse to me,” he added. Tennessee already ties welfare to education by mandating a 20 percent cut in benefits if students do not meet attendance standards, but this change would place the burden of maintaining benefits squarely on children, who would face costing their family much-needed assistance if they don’t keep up in school.

From the Margins to the Mainstream: In Defense of Henry Enuta & Other Intersex People Around the Globe

April 01, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, LGBTQ

From Crunk Feminist Collective:

On March 26th, 2013 in Sapele, the Delta State of Nigeria, Pastor Henry Enuta was physically stripped and humiliated in public because he is an intersex person. According to news reports, he was almost killed by a lynch mob before being taken into custody by police. Most of the headlines covering this story grossly refer to Mr. Enuta as a “hermaphrodite” because he has genitals that are characteristically male and female. To sensationalize this story and humiliate Mr. Enuta even more, media outlets have published pictures of him bare chested and with torn clothes, holding onto his dignity while passers-by capture pictures of him with their mobile phones.

When I saw this story, I was horrified at how Mr. Enuta’s humanity was reduced to a mockery simply because his body did not conform to narrow standards of what a man’s body should be. For him to be forcibly stripped with no one to offer him clothes or rescue was atrocious. I was doubly astounded at how members of his community sought to kill him for the mere fact that he was different and considered some kind of freak. Nevertheless, given that this incident has taken place in Nigeria, I want to be very aware of my position as an African American queer intersex man living in the United States. People with intersex conditions living in the United States are just as vulnerable as intersex people living abroad. The medicalized and state sanctioned violence that impacts intersex people living in the United States is a pervasive, isolating, and silencing kind of violence that recreates stigma and shame.

In speaking out against this act, my goal is not to impose a critical, patronizing gaze on how people in Nigeria should respond to queerness or difference. Considering how the United States and Europe have responded to legislation that seeks to punish, kill, and “reform” queer people in Uganda, for example, I find myself both wanting to fight for the sovereignty of Black African nations and also asking those same nations to uphold the humanity and dignity of their queer and sexually differentiated citizens. Those of us committed to the upholding the dignity and respect of intersex people around the world must be willing to do the hard work of both checking our biases and privileges while also continuing to advocate for justice wherever injustice occurs.

The 113th Congress Will Be The Most Diverse in History

November 14, 2012 By: seeta Category: 2012 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, Poverty, Workers' Rights

From ThinkProgress:

Though Congress remains whiter, older, and more male than the nation as a whole, the incoming class will be the most diverse in history.

The 113th Congress will be more representative of the United States from race to religion, and from gender to sexual orientation. It will look more like America with 4 new African American representatives, 10 new Latinos, 5 new Asian Americans and 24 women in the House or Senate.* It will believe more like America with the first two Hindu congresspeople, the first Buddhist senator, and the first non-theist to openly acknowledge her belief prior to getting elected. It will love more like America, with 4 new LGBT congresspeople or senators, including the first openly bisexual congresswoman and the first openly gay congressman of color. And it will be younger, with four new congressmen born in the 1980s.

Click on image for larger view


Food Stamps, Poor-Shaming and the Very Scary 2012 Farm Bill

July 27, 2012 By: seeta Category: 2012 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, Poverty

From Colorlines:

The Senate version of this year’s Farm Bill cuts about $4.5 billion from SNAP. In real life, this means 500,000 households would lose $90 a month in benefits, according to the Food and Research Action Center. Meanwhile, the House Agriculture Committee’s version, passed early this month, includes a staggering $16.5 billion in SNAP cuts. Per Feeding America, this would result in 3 million people losing all of their benefits, 300,000 children going without school lunch, and 500,000 households losing $90 in monthly grocery money.

I haven’t seen a race breakdown of these potential losses, but I can tell you that of SNAP households in 2010, 36 percent were white, 22 percent were black,10 percent were Latino, 2 percent were Asian, 3 percent were Native American (19 percent didn’t report their race). Most adult recipients were women and a hefty share were single moms.*

I don’t want to beat you over the head with stats, but it’s really important to note how many folks are using SNAP. About one in seven U.S. residents received this help in 2011, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The year before, three out of four households on SNAP included a child, elderly or disabled person. For the most part, SNAP participants were below the poverty line and their food budgets were very small. Here’s more from the CBO:

Most people who received SNAP benefits lived in households with very low income, about $8,800 per year on average in that year. The average monthly SNAP benefit per household was $287, or $4.30 per person per day. On average, SNAP benefits boosted gross monthly income by 39 percent for all participating households and by 45 percent for households with children.

It doesn’t take a rockstar economist to figure out the source of all of this need: Mass unemployment and underemployment, higher food prices and ever-increasing food insecurity.