Thursday, October 15, 2009
They Eat Horses, Don’t They?
A rise in horse theft in southern Florida has left many owners terrified and angryâ€”and their horses hacked up on the side of the road. More than a shame, more than a sin, this is a crime. A federal offense, in fact.
On October 7th, 2009, writer Nadia Wynter reported in The New York Daily News that the Miami-Dade police have discovered a large black market industry in South Florida, the magnitude of which they'd not been aware. No, it's not cigars. Not sugarcane. Not, not, notâ€”rum, ganja or woven blankets.
Horse is the New Black in Miami-Dade. Black Market, that is.
Yes, apparently the delicate palates of the South Florida community have spoken, and caballo is being served up, still steaming with the heat of recently-extinguished Life, right out of the stallâ€”at $20 to $40 a pound. I speculate that haute cuisine restaurants will soon feature the overpriced delicacy, if the federal government doesn't step up to the proverbial plate and do their jobsâ€”that of prosecuting the thieves-cum-butchers, soon.
Someone whose pet has been butchered and eaten is not a happy person. The owner is saddened, yes, but also enraged: their rights as the owner of their companion animal have been ripped from their hands by someone who is selfish and has no boundaries. If you'd steal another person's pet, kill and eat itâ€”it's not a far leap to the kidnapping and killing of their child. It's a much-documented fact that for anyone who has the hardness of heart to torture and murder an animal who is weaker than themselvesâ€”torture and murder of humans is not far behind.
If you can steal a horse and cut it up, alive, you are no higher up the food chain than a coyote, marauding a farm in your quest for a free chicken dinner. In lieu of chicken, the coyote will gladly tear apart your pet cat.
The coyote, at least, has the excuse that he must depend on his wiles in order to live. Coyotes are, by nature, predatorsâ€”and, as such, we come to expect this behavior. To say that "they can't help themselves" is absolutely true: they do not operate by logic, reasoning or the obedience to law. Compassion is not their strong suit. They get hungry, they kill something. Easy math.
But for humans to hunt down and kill the horse who belongs to someoneâ€”or a wild horse, for that matter, who belongs to Godâ€”and butcher that horse, cutting its flesh from its side while it's still aliveâ€”is nothing short of barbaric. It's behaviour that marks the butcher as being sub-humanâ€”not animal, for the animals have unwritten rules of engagement. Anyone who would butcher a horse alive to sell the meat is a lowlife: there is no punishment that is adequate for such a twisted soul, unless we wish to do the "eye for an eye" thing. If that's the case, the owner whose rights have been wrenched from their hands get to hold aloft a large, long, sharp blade and gut the human predator while in an enclosed space. Let's say, a 12' x 12' stall.
If there's a special room in Hell for those who torture animals, these Floridians will get a front-row seat. But I am too eager to wait until they are dead to know that they are punished for their sins. I want to see them captured, tried and incarcerated. Now. (Although, in the culture of crime that thrives on violence, one can speculate that Darwin's theories will prove out, and that these peons will soon be picked off by those higher up the chain in their circle of evil.) I'd hate to wait until Natural Selection eviscerates their wretched souls: I want the federal government to step in. I am putting out a call for the United States Attorney General to hunt down these disgusting lawbreakers; arrest them and try them for violation of federal laws.
But What Federal Law is Being Broken?
Before we get to this revelation, we should investigate the phenomenon that is occurring only in Florida; the reasons why and why local and state laws won't stop this transaction of sin from taking place.
As reported by The New York Daily News, horse meat sells for $20 to $40 a poundâ€”a price that demands to be seen in perspective to other culinary delights. Lobster comes in at around $15 a pound. Filet Mignon is similarly priced. A good Surf 'N Turf at a decent restaurant costs about $40, including all the courses.
Now, for the same price in South Florida, you get one pound of Uncooked Dead Horse in a filthy plastic bag: no questions, no trimmings. (And of course, the purchaser can be assured that it is dead horse: it is unthinkable to entertain the notion that someone who would rip a horse's vocal chords out with a knife would lie, because lying is a sin.)
A question that has been given an uneasyâ€”at least, politically incorrectâ€”answer is, "Who is buying this expensive, illicitly-obtained, meat?" Is it someone's old Grandma with a hankering? Young, upstart chefs, willing to crack a few eggs and break a few laws in order to offer their clientele the latest in hot (as in, stolen) cuisine? For whom are these killings occurring? It's obvious by the way that the horses' corpses are hacked up that it is not a crime fueled by anger, revenge or any other emotion. This is strictly businessâ€”and business is lucrative, because horses are being butchered even as I write this.
A Cultural Craving
The reports coming from Florida indicate that the rise in the theft and butchering of horses is related to the Cuban taste for horse meat. South Florida is only a breath away from Cuba: the majority of immigrants into the southern end of the state come from the oppressed island nation, or have ancestors who made the brave journey. In Cuba, as in many European countries, horse meat is not only a regular part of the menuâ€”it has been a cultural mainstay for many generations. No doubt in the Americas since the 16th Century, when the Spanish Conquistadores brought horses over to the New World.
This statement is not politically correct, but it's not intended to be an ethnic slur, either. The fact of the matter is that, in American societyâ€”and in every society where the rights of individuals are treasured, and the sale or giving of property is the right of said individualâ€”whether an animal is a pet or livestock, it is the right of the human who owns said animal to determine who is next in possession of that animal.
Going into a man's barn and murdering his horse utterly violates this right of ownership. Period. It doesn't matter what your cultural tastes dictateâ€”if it's wrong, it's wrong. And regardless of where you live or originateâ€”stealing someone's pet, killing and eating it is not only merely unacceptableâ€”it's vile, immoral and illegal.
My own Italian ancestors ate mortadella, a cold cut made from horse meat. ("Mortadella," in fact, is slang for "dead horse" in Italian.) I have some Korean friendsâ€”but it has never crossed my mind that they might steal Pam's dog, Molly, kill her and barbeque her. South Americans are fond of guinea pigâ€”but Petsmart isn't fearful that they'll be robbed at night by crazed Peruvians, looking for a plump, juicy C. porcellus for Sunday supper.
It makes us squirm when someone names a specific group of people as the probable perpetrators of a crime. To say that Florida's horses are being stolen and butchered by Cubans or those who sell to them isn't a popular statementâ€”but it appears to be the Truth. The Cuban love affair with the delicacy that is horse meat has given rise to the blatant disregard for the property of Floridians, for this meat certainly isn't being inspected, freeze-dried, packaged and sent to France.
We must not allow ourselves to jump into that mire of prejudice, to believe that all Cubanos are doing this. A few individuals, who may or may not be Cubano, are committing these crimes. It may be another group of people who have no scruples and realize that the Cubano palate craves horse meat. Money is money, and for anyone who would act out such a horrific crime, all that matters is that someone is willing to pay the price. We must not allow ourselves to paint the scene with a broad brush, and state or even believe that all people of Latin American extraction are involved, in any way. The Thoroughbred industry employs thousands--perhaps even hundreds of thousands--of good-hearted, hard-working people from Latin America and the Caribbean. The majority of these employees are the ones in the trenches with the horses: feeding, grazing, hotwalking, grooming, developing relationships, loving and healing horses every day and night, 365 days a year. They must not be accused of a sin of which they are not guilty: they are, in fact, the first line of defense in the life of a horse. They would be the first ones to fend off anyone who would injure or otherwise imperil the lives of the horses in their care. No, this crime happens to cater to a Cuban culinary desire--but it is neither all Cubans nor any other group of Latinos who are doing the deed. And the many must not be made to pay for the sins of the few.
Why Should the Law Intervene?
This crime is not simply a matter of one bad man invading the space of one good man. It is not "a private matter." In the spirit of John Stuart Mill and Utilitarianism, the law seeks to protect the greatest number of people, for the good of the many. This means that individuals or cultural groups of people may not get to eat everything they loveâ€”but, also in that spirit of the best good for the most peopleâ€”other groups are also deprived, for the sake of creating community. The Cubans can't have horse meat, but neither can my Italian cousins in Providence.
In other words: it may be Cubans who are committing this crime. And all cultures have culinary tastes that sound strange or distasteful to other cultures. But regardless of what the criminals or a certain segment of society wantsâ€”they are not allowed to do it because if everyone was allowed to do as they wish, simply because they felt like itâ€”chaos would rein.
So we know why a crime is being committed. And that crime, like any business, arises because there is a demand. The problem for those stealing and killing horses is that there are local and state laws forbidding the theft and abuse (murder) of another person's animal.
Apparently the police have captured two of the horse murderers, which may lead to the arrest of others in the ring. But how can this crime trend truly be halted? The Cubans are not committing this crime: that is, an entire ethnic group is not responsible for the crimes of a few. (I am half-Italian, but I am not a member of the Mafia. In spite of what the "romantic" notion of Mafiosi would have you believeâ€”not all Italians carry loaded Glocks.) Crimes are committed by individual people who have no concern for the rights or desires of others. It is never The Cubans, or The Italians, or The African-Americans who break the law and wreak havoc. It is always individuals, one single human being at a time, who chooses to break the law, who doesn't give a damn about anyone other than her or his selfish plans.
Criminals are Accountable to the Law
And because it is individuals who commit the crimeâ€”regardless of the segment of society to whom they are selling the waresâ€”it is individuals who must be punished for the crimes. All of our emotional arguments about horses, that we love them and must protect them, will do nothing to dissuade someone who is hell-bent on stealing your horse and chopping her up right in her stall. Our weeping missives about why it shouldn't happen won't hold any water in court. The disgusting creatures who are killing horses in Florida will not stop because we love horses, and that it's mean to do this.
The perpetrators will only be stopped when the law becomes tough, and takes a serious stand with those who are stealing and butchering horses. The criminals in question are breaking not only local and state lawsâ€”they're guilty of serious federal offenses.
The three arguments that do hold up in court are those that state that:
1) It's illegal to steal someone else's animal;
2) It's a crime to abuse an animal; and
3) This is The Big Oneâ€”it's a violation of United States Federal Law to sell meat that hasn't been inspected.
Poverty Breeds Desperation, and Desperation Breeds Crime.
Poverty is rampant in Miami-Dade, in spite of the breathtaking aerial shots on "CSI: Miami." (In April, 2007, Miami Today News cited the US Census Bureau's American Community Survey, in which it was reported that the City of Miami has one of the highest poverty rates and one of the lowest median incomes among large US cities.) This is not an especially unusual or unexpected statistic: Miami-Dade is a community not unlike Westchester County, New York, where some of the wealthiest people in America dwell, separated only by footbridges from some of the poorest people in the country. Pelham, New York, where the average cost of a home if $1,000,000 is literally one inch away from The Bronx.
While I've not been to Miami-Dade to observe their range of cuisine, I have dined in renowned Westchester restaurants. On the other end of the spectrum, I've had delicious Jerk Chicken and orange soda at Golden Krust, a great Caribbean semi-fast-food joint in The Bronx. Wealth is wealth, and poverty is poverty: the chances that the horse meat is being sold to someone's poor Grandma in South Florida is very thin. If Grandma is cooking Caballo for Sunday supper, she's paying top C$ (Cuban Pesos) for it. $1,060 C$, to be exact. And she's probably getting more than one pound. That's would be one damned expensive family dinner.
If it's the restaurants in Miami-Dade which are serving the illicit meat, they are playing a very dangerous game. Purchasing black market meat from a vendor who just slaughtered the animal with his own filthy hands has implications all the way from Health Department violations to the possibility of a lovely, decade-long mancation in a federal prison. What restaurateur in his right mind would sell contraband meat? A half-witted chef who serves Caballo serves to lose everythingâ€”restaurant, wife, family, all finances, savings and freedom.
Is it worth losing everything in your Life for the panache of serving one Caballo Filet?
And Why is Horse Meat Illegal?
The sale of horse meat is illegal for one reason, but a very good and compelling one, the aforementioned fact that the United States Department of Agriculture meat inspectors are forbidden by U.S. Law to inspect horse meat. The passage of the Law that states this was that which effectively closed down the horse slaughter plants in Texas and Illinois. If the meat can't be inspected, it can't leave the building. And it cannot be sold for human consumption if it cannot be inspected.
So if it's illegal for a legal horse slaughter plant to sell uninspected meatâ€”how can it be legal to sell horse meat as an individual "vendor," who has no license and certainly had no USDA inspector to assure that the meat is disease-free?
Answer: it's not.
Laws That Must be Changed, and the One That Provides Serious Jail Time.
As discussed in a previous article here on Horse Race Insider, horses in America are not necessarily protected from abusive behaviour because they are not covered by the Domestic Animal laws. These are Laws that can beâ€”if taken seriouslyâ€”very harsh about domestic animal abuse.* But as it stands now, horses are considered to be livestock, in the same category with pigs, chickens and bulls. The laws that speak to a horse's right to live without fear of abuse and murder vary from city to city, county to county, state to state. It's confusing for laypeople and activists to sort out which laws in which acre of a city apply to a situation, and which do not. The perpetrators who are butchering horses in Miami-Dade, once they are caught, may end up being given a slap on the wrist because local and state laws regarding horse theft, abuse and murder are so nebulous.
Even if they have teethâ€”these local laws are rarely taken seriously by prosecutors who have drug dealers, serial killers and rapists on their weekly docket. Overwhelmed by the needs of the human community, prosecutors often are willing to strike deals with those who violate our horses, simply because the D.A.'s office is just overwhelmed.
We who love horses and defend them must work within our own communities (cities, states) to change the Domestic Animal Laws so that horses are considered in that category, rather than as livestock. That's one great step we must make, and until we get that accomplished at the local and state levels, horse abuse will continueâ€”and slaughter will still be an option in the minds of many. But as we discuss the need to change the Domestic Animal Laws in favor of horses, our caballo friends are still being stolen and hacked upâ€”time is not on their side. We must get those who torture and murder horses in their own barns arrested and into court. And the only way to do that swiftly is to insist that this crimeâ€”whether in South Florida, New York or Nevadaâ€”is punished at the federal level.
Al Capone didn't finally go to prison because he'd been convicted of giving the go-ahead for the assassination of hundreds of people. Or because he was a drug dealer and hands-off pimp. Al Capone was arrested and imprisoned by Ness and the good guys in Chicago because Capone was in violation of federal income tax laws. Income tax evasion was the very least of Capone's sins, but it's the one that the feds could use to get him into prison.
In the same spirit, that of getting criminals into prison for a seemingly-vague reasonâ€”that of punishing the least of their crimesâ€”I ask that the Miami-Dade prosecutor's office; the Florida State Attorney General and even the Attorney General of the United States track down the criminals who are committing this obscene crimeâ€”and breaking the hearts of the good owners who had no say in the fate of their horsesâ€”and charge the offenders with the violation of the federal law of selling horse meat that has not been inspected.
It's not a huge collection of words, is it? "â€¦federal law of selling horse meat that has not been inspected." A short statement, but packed with words that can lead to a prison sentence of several years. If the USDA can't inspect the meat from a legal plant, surely no one is inspecting the meat that's being cut out of the sides of a horse and sold on the back alleys of Miami. And those who butcher the horse and sell it are therefore in violation of federal meat inspection laws. And that violation cold buy them as much as 10 or more years in a federal penitentiary.
While they're at it, they might also charge the perps with possession of a stolen or otherwise illegal firearm. I'm pretty sure that anyone who enters a darkened barn late at night and is prepared to defend themselves against irate horse owners is packin' heat. And that they didn't bother to register that gun with the State of Florida.
So two federal laws are being broken in Miami-Dade. And that is the argument: that, in the end, it doesn't matter who's eating the meat, or whose culture has a long tradition, or who has fond memories of eating Horsie Frickasee back in Havana, Genoa or Paris. All that matters, in the end, is that those who are committing the crime are punished to the full extent of the law. Al Capone got 11 years, stiff fines and liens on all his major properties, for tax evasion.
A Call to Action
Can we allow these nameless, soulless criminals spend any less time in prison for breaking the hearts of horse owners and cruelly murdering these horses? If the animal welfare laws don't-yet allow the jail time that is appropriate for such hideous crimesâ€”then we must utilize the meat inspection and unregistered firearms laws, and get these executioners off the streets of Miami, and into federal prisons for a decade or more.
Please help the horses in South Florida, who shake in their stalls, wondering if they'll be next. Those whose owners are scared to death, and fearful of entering their own barns after dark. Please call the attorneys listed below, and help get the South Florida Horse Murderers out of society and into a nice, dark prison cell. Call or email, whichever you do, insist that the federal laws which are being broken are the ones cited on the arrest warrants and indictment papers. Point out that, inasmuch as it is time-consuming and tiring to build a case against a horse thief and killer for federal law rather than mere local and state lawâ€”the evidence that the crime is being committed lies on the floor of a Dade County barn, torn to shreds, bloodying that which had been a nice, soft and safe bed, provided by a loving owner. The real CSI: Miami forensics team will have no problem finding the evidence to take to court.
It's worth our time and effortâ€”and that of prosecutorsâ€”to get these disgusting creatures into federal prison for their crimes against horsemanity and humanity. If precedents are set, all the better. We cannot allow one more horse to be killed in Miami-Dade. And we cannotâ€”we will notâ€”allow those who steal a man's horse and stab it to death to pay a $50 fine and two days in prison.
Even goldfish in New York are defined as living creatures who deserve to live without being violated and murdered.* If we cannot convict the Florida Equine Executioners of federal offensesâ€”we are saying that our horses are farther down the chain than a goldfish. And I know it's an apples and oranges argument, and some people do value goldfish over horses. But we must strive to assure that our horses get at least the legal protection as that of a koi.
Our failure to convict and punish the criminals who are terrorizing Miami-Dade may have implications down the line. The immediate concern regarding local and state laws is that, even amoeba in America have more rights than the average horse.
So, yes, here I go again, making a sin, a shame, this crimeâ€”sound like a federal offense.
Funny that this timeâ€¦it really is.
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* Reference: New York, People v. Garcia, 2004. WL 524653. Mr. Garcia had terrorized a woman and her three children, including crushing and killing the children's pet goldfish. He was charged with (among other things) a violation of New York State's Domestic Animal Law. The goldfish had names and were loved by the children as pets, ergo, Garcia was convicted as goldfish were domestic animals and therefore covered by the law. http://www.drafthorsejournal.net/summer2005/lawandhorses.htm
Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Miami State Attorney
Jeffrey H. Sloman, Acting U.S. Attorney
Office of the United States' Attorney's Office, Southern District of Florida
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