Across the United States, people are uniting to protest against systemic racism on a scale not seen since the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s. In particular, protesters are outraged over the deaths of George Floyd, who was suffocated by a police officer during his arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill; Breonna Taylor, who was shot in her own home by police raiding the wrong address; and Ahmaud Arbery, who was murdered while jogging over a robbery he didn’t commit; as well as innumerable other black and brown people whose lives have been cut violently and unjustly short by police or self-appointed vigilantes. ANIMAL PEOPLE is horrified by such acts of violence and hate, and stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter in calling for an end to police brutality, systemic racism, and racial inequality.
The animal protection movement builds on the precedents of historic struggles to establish and defend human rights, and its historical origins are closely intertwined with the abolition and civil rights movements. Among historically prominent black leaders active both in racial justice and animal protection activism are Richard Carroll (1859-1929), Frederick Rivers Barnwell (1883-1958), Coretta Scott King (1927-2006), Dick Gregory (1932-2017), and Alice Walker (born 1944). Another major figure is John Africa (1931-1985), founder of the black liberation group MOVE and a staunch proponent of animal rights, who required vegetarianism of his followers and led protests against zoos, circuses, and puppy mills. John Africa and ten others, including five children, were killed by Philadelphia police on May 13th, 1985, using bombs dropped on their house from a helicopter.
Core to the animal protection movement is the conviction that all sentient beings are morally valuable, and that acts of cruelty, neglect, and other abuse must always be opposed, no matter the victim. This must by necessity include the abuse of human beings. Social justice is not a zero sum game, and we reject the attitude that progress for animals must wait until human social causes have been fulfilled. Nonetheless, there can be little hope of securely establishing rights for non-human animals in the moral or legal spheres, so long as even the most fundamental rights—life and liberty—are so often withheld from humans due merely to the color of their skin.
We call on animal protection activists, and people of every race and ethnicity who care about animals, to also stand up for human rights in the face of oppression and persecution. Below is a non-exhaustive list of actions we encourage you to take:
- Attend protests in person, or assist in organizing them. To the extent possible, take precautions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, such as wearing a face mask, eye protection, and gloves; maintaining social distance from fellow protesters; and using signs to convey your views while minimizing speech or shouting.
- Support organizations working in the intersection of animal protection, racial justice, and other social causes. ANIMAL PEOPLE’s organizational policies prevent us from publicly endorsing or fundraising on behalf of other groups. However, if you wish to contact our board members or employees directly, they may be willing to share their own recommendations of organizations to support.
- Avoid (and call out) the use of rhetoric and tactics in animal advocacy that perpetuate racism or other bigotry. For example, do not demonize people for acts of cruelty committed by others of the same race, nationality, or religion. Remember that compassionate people exist in every society, and that local grassroots activists are often the ones doing the most to combat cultural practices that involve animal suffering.
- Use your social media presence as a tool for online activism. Sharing information, perspectives, your own opinions, or even memes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can help raise awareness, shape opinions, and further national (and global) conversations.
- Talk to your family and friends. Even relatives you may assume are “lost causes” could potentially be swayed by the right arguments. Talk to the children in your life especially, for the values and attitudes they learn now will shape the course of their lives and the world we leave to them.
- Vote for candidates, bills, and measures that will reduce violence and inequality in your community, your country, and the world.
ANIMAL PEOPLE affirms that Black Lives Matter. We condemn racism, police brutality, and the systems that enable them. We call for action to defend the rights and dignity of all people, and to oppose violence and cruelty of any kind. We strive to help create a future in which all sentient beings—humans and non-human animals alike—are treated with justice and compassion.
Featured image: a sign at a protest reads “Black Lives Matter.” Image credit Ella, CC BY-SA 2.0.