Last weekend, 37-year-old Bruce Kelley Jr and his father were drinking alcohol in a gazebo on the busway in Wilkinsburg, a suburb of Pittsburgh. Police officers noticed they were drinking from open containers, and asked them to stop. Words were exchanged, and a fight ensued between the officers and the drunk men.
Kelley Sr was apprehended, but Kelley Jr managed to momentarily escape. Soon, however, more officers came to the scene, and five of them caught up to Kelley Jr and surrounded him. Knowing he had a knife, they attempted to subdue him with stun guns. But those didn’t work because Kelley, who also apparently was homeless, had on layers of clothes. The officers then sent a K-9 — a five-year-old German Shepherd named Aren — after him. Kelley stabbed and killed the K-9, and then the officers shot and killed him.
I first heard about this incident Sunday evening. I don’t remember exactly what the headline I read said, but I do remember it said something like “K-9 Officer Killed.” I also recall that the story didn’t even mention that a man, an actual human being, was also killed. (Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find that original story to link to it. You’ll just have to trust me.)
Today, many roads in the city will be closed for Aren’s procession and memorial service. Naturally, the death of the dog, the circumstances leading to his death, and the juxtaposition of how this dog has been treated and revered versus the treatment and lack of reverence received by the man killed by police has made this story a controversial one. Some of the Facebook threads of local news outlets reporting on this story have received thousands of likes, shares, and comments.
This in mind, I’ve created a helpful list of things people — media people included — need to stop saying when police dogs are killed.
1. “He was killed in the line of duty”
“Duty” implies obligation. Obligation implies responsibility. Responsibility implies agency. Police dogs, however, have no agency. They did not volunteer to be police dogs. They didn’t sign any papers or apply through any internet portals for prospective police dogs. They were chosen. And then trained. And because they had no choice about whether they wanted to be police dogs, they had no duty to fulfill.
2. “He gave his life”
Police dogs have no ownership of their lives. They’re told what to do, where to go, where to live, and even when to eat. Therefore, they can not “give” their lives. Because, from the moment they were chosen to be police dogs, their lives were taken from them.
3. “His death was senseless”
Actually, it makes perfect sense that a man attacked by an animal — a meat-eating and potential human-killing lethal weapon trained to attack and deployed on him by a group of armed officers — would attempt to defend himself with force. It would actually make less sense if a man attacked by a deadly animal decided to do nothing and just allowed himself to get mauled.
4. “His death was tragic”
This is true. The death of Aren was a tragedy. But the statement is incomplete. A more accurate assessment would read “It’s tragic that these five armed officers couldn’t subdue a drunk and homeless guy with a knife and decided to allow a dog to attack him. And it’s even more tragic that this dispute over an open container of alcohol led to the death of a man. An actual human being. The dog also died, and that’s tragic too. Not as tragic, but still tragic. This was a tragic level of law enforcement incompetence, and these officers should be fired. Perhaps even charged.”
5. “The death of the K-9 officer”
I do not know if Aren had any puppies. But I do know that if he did, those puppies will not be receiving any pensions. Because Aren received no paycheck. I’m sure he was treated splendidly. He probably ate the finest grade of Kibbles ‘n Bits available — if there’s such a thing as a Black Label Kibbles ‘n Bits, I’m sure he received it — and I’m even sure he slept on one of those posturepedic dog beds from PetSmart. Not the discount ones you find near the register, next to leashes and beef-flavored tennis balls and shit.
But calling an animal that received no officer pay and wasn’t even aware he was a police officer a “police officer” is like buying my two-month-old daughter a spacesuit and calling her an “astronaut.” He was a dog whose life was sacrificed by officers too incompetent for duty.