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"Puppycide by Gavel: How the Judiciary Uses the Police Killing of Dogs to Reinforce Justifications for Police Violence" (by Jeremy Smith): Review 3

Published onFeb 07, 2024
"Puppycide by Gavel: How the Judiciary Uses the Police Killing of Dogs to Reinforce Justifications for Police Violence" (by Jeremy Smith): Review 3

Vote: Publish pending minor/major changes.

I suggest minor/major edits because the methodological approach is sound, but the framing of the analysis seems to be missing something. I look not only for a consistent methodological approach, but I also want a deeper dive into the findings beyond the traditional reporting. This also seems to carry over to the implications and discussion. My critique (and suggestion) is that the theoretical underpinning seems to be missing much-needed depth in an otherwise sound research topic. The author is correct to focus on canicide – however, its situation within a legacy of violence seems unmoored. There is a long history of the weaponization of dogs in the service of protecting and serving the racial order (see Wall, 2016, Dayan, 2011), while Maire Ni Leathlobhair et al. (2018) have written extensively on how “native” canines, domesticated by Indigenous populations, have been killed by colonial settlers and its policing projects. Instead of this focus, the author provides a brief summary of the history of police before detailing interrogation tactics and the rise of paramilitary policing in the U.S. The above-mentioned history of weaponization speaks to a broader connection that could elevate the author’s work. Without this connection, I’m not clear on the point of the history of police in the manuscript.

  • Another way to re-evaluate this approach is to center the dog and the history of dogs as they connect to policing, as the construction of the weaponization of the canine seems to remain in line with them becoming “man’s best friend.” How does this history re-situate the findings and lead to a deeper set of implications concerning police violence (and the limits of acceptability)?

I detail this explanation not to critique the author’s points but to highlight the larger history the author can place canicide in. Furthermore, such a history would help situate a more theoretically rich discussion of the author’s content analysis findings.

  • Additionally, a history of the weaponization of dogs further highlights the contradictory nature of policing, as it is held within the same discursive terror often turned racial the Author looks to discuss. It could also help us understand more thoroughly the processes of (de)humanization and the implications that come with police violence.

  • This becomes more apparent as the Author details their findings. For instance, p. 9, “the dog’s ability to bite and inflict harm provides a readymade justification for officers since it is rooted in the human fear of becoming prey (Delise, 2007)”. This seems obvious but lacks depth. Drawing on the weaponization of canines can make this feel a bit more impactful. Specifically, (de)humanization, as seen by the police, is not a two-way street, a reality that solidifies the definition of human as a contested territory even in legal discussion. How does this play out in judicial decisions?

  • P. 10: “Second, the officer’s testimony highlights the importance of the unknown when justifying police violence” does not seem accurate. It is known that death is a possibility. As cited by the Author, the U.S. District Court in Missouri clarifies, “dogs ‘contain a latent threat to human safety’.” Possibility and unknowability are related, but it’s unclear how possibility means unknowability here. This is another example of a contested space that becomes clear only if one stands behind the police to see. This again connects to the concept of terror represented via the weaponization of dogs (see Dayan, 2011).

  • P. 10 – in discussing the implications of “terror” here, the author could also use it as a space to add theoretically rich work by authors describing police violence as such. This would help develop the discussion and make those connections between humans and non-humans more applicable to understanding police violence.

  • I think a strength of this article is in the details of the case and of the author making connections via a set of precedents. However, I think an extended aspect of this connection could be how such legal precedent works its way into the realities of police encounters. At times, the Author makes these connections clear, but I think adding theoretical depth can also further help add necessary details to understanding policing within the law: how everyday police violence is shaped by these same narratives. That’s ultimately what the author is working towards by focusing on canicide, but staying true to this approach also requires more development into the everyday articulations of these precedents in action.

  • Why are dogs important? What can their treatment at the hands of the police tell us about policing, police violence, and the legality of police violence? The author sees these questions as important but needs to extend the connections between these lines more clearly for the reader.

Specific issues: more road mapping language and bridging language. This is a minor change but could allow the reader to make larger connections between the events and findings described, and the real-world issues prevalent. This could be done in obvious ways, such as providing a summary of findings or detailing past connections in more developed ways.

  • For example, relying on the headlines to detail the reader’s journey is inadequate here. Helping the reader bridge the connections the Author wants to make can further optimize the material presented in this manuscript. Summaries, road mapping language, and sign-posting can help the reader follow the trail the Author wants us to follow.

P. 10: “The Sixth Circuit’s reliance on the barking as indicative of aggression highlights another important pillar of” … Its unclear where the author was going.

This is an important topic and in line with the journal’s mission. I think edits are necessary for publication. In particular, edits concerning organization and theory are key in making this a publishable manuscript.

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