We don’t show up on our mats and cushions so we can stay asleep, we do it so we can look at what arises.
This week Houston Press ran a cover story entitled, “Open Season: Do Laws Against Animal Crushing Videos Violate Free Speech?”
It details the recent story about Ashley Nicole Richards and Brent Wayne Justice, the first people to be charged under the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act of 2010. The Act “criminalizes the creation, sale, and marketing” of crush videos—videos that depict animals being tortured to death by humans. As if that’s not bad enough, the videos are apparently produced to satisfy the sexual fetishes of those who watch them.
Richards and Justice were charged after a video in which Richards tortured and killed a cat made its way to PETA. In it, Richards is dressed in a black bra, shorts and heels and “flaunts her assets” for the camera as she first immobilizes, then tortures and eventually kills a cat.
You can read the full description of the video here, but be warned, it’s graphic.
As I read the story all I could think was thank goodness these people were now going to be punished.
Except, as it turns out, they weren’t. To be punishable, the law requires a finding of obscenity. A federal judge ruled that the charges against Richards and Justice violate the First Amendment because no such obscenity is found in the videos.
If that’s not the definition of obscene, then what is?
According to article, for there to be obscenity, the videos must “portray sexual conduct in a patently offensive way.” The judge in this case determined that “the acts depicted in animal crush videos may be ‘patently offensive’ under community standards, but under no set of community standards does violence toward animals constitute ‘sexual conduct.'”
The case was dismissed, and the two weren’t charged. However, as of May 17th, an update to the story stated that Richards and Justice are still in custody and that animal cruelty charges will be filed in the case.
As I read this story, I struggled with whether or not to share it. The concept of animal crushing is new to me, so I assumed it might be new to others. And in the interest of being aware, mindful citizens, we should know about these types of things.
But I’ve caught some flak recently for repeatedly writing about animal abuse and rights issues. From what I’ve heard, this stuff is a real downer.
Trust me, I know.
But I’ve also gotten a fair amount of positive feedback—people who have thanked me, and others who have encouraged me to keep doing what I’m doing.
So it was with these mixed messages that I toiled over how to approach this story. Of all the stories of animal abuse I’ve read over the years, this one has disturbed me in a different way.
If you take the time to read the whole thing, and to inform yourself about animal crushing, you’ll find a very dark and incomprehensible part of the human psyche.
It makes me very uncomfortable and fearful that people like Richards and Justice take pleasure in this sort of thing. Then I got it.
It’s because of this discomfort that I have to share this story.
I understand why people don’t want to read or hear about stories like this. It’s much easier and definitely more comfortable to look the other way. I know I would be happier if I shut my laptop and went to do something else.
But it’s because it’s difficult and uncomfortable that I know I have to look at it.
I understand how it feels when you read or see something—how once you know it—you can’t “un-know” it. I feel uncomfortable and sad every time I hear or see evidence of animal abuse. It never gets easier.
But that feeling is the same one that tells me this isn’t the time to shut down—this is the time to open up, to really feel and to see what the emotion has to tell us.
Usually, when we have the overwhelming desire to not look at something it’s a good clue that we need to look at it.
Isn’t this why we practice?
We don’t show up on our mats and cushions so we can stay asleep, we do it so we can look at what arises. Whether it’s a difficult pose and our thighs are burning, or learning about people who stomp on cats with their stilettos, our practice is about learning to stay—both on and off the mat.
Just as we look at our own shit, we have to look at the shit around us too.
Ultimately, the story about Richards and Justice is not about us or about how we feel. It’s about the animals, and what they deserve. We owe it to them to hear their stories.
We have to bear witness.
The animals being treated this way don’t have the voices we do. We need to have conversations about people like Richards and Justice, and about god-awful things like animal crushing, because it’s part of the world we’ve created, and because in bringing awareness to these issues, hopefully one more person can be reached.
We have to look at these things because sometimes it’s the only thing to do. With this story, I don’t have any messages of compassion or ideas about how people come to be that way. With this story, I’m lost. Maybe if we can have a conversation about it, we can come up with some answers, some solutions.
But we will never be able to stop the atrocities that are committed every day if we aren’t willing to look at them, much less talk about them.
It’s in the uncomfortable that we learn and grow. It’s in the uncomfortable that change takes place.
In The Great Work of Your Life, Stephen Cope says,
“Each of us feels some aspect of the world’s suffering acutely. And we must pay attention. We must act. This little corner of the world is ours to transform. This little corner of the world is ours to save.”
Whether our cause is animals, hunger or rainforests, we can’t look the other way. Read the stories, sign the petitions and let your voice be heard.
Because nothing has ever changed by someone turning their head the other way.
Or, in the words of Dr. Seuss, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” ~ The Lorax
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta