Apportioning our outrage

In the matter of Michael Vick, let me relate that I walked blithely and naively a few years ago into my first encounter with what a lot of people would rather not discuss.

That would be the race factor in the animal cruelty issue.

The House of Representatives of my rural Southern state had just mustered a scant 20 or so votes, out of 100, for a bill to establish a felony for the most vicious acts of brutality to animals.

I ran into a friendly legislator I knew to be progressive. I shared my lamentation about the absurd backwardness of the vote.

The progressive legislator turned defensive. He ended up telling me that white people needed to worry as much about black people living in poverty in the middle of gangland war zones as they worried about their dogs.

The progressive legislator was black.

Vick, who is black, faces a federal indictment for his alleged involvement in a pit bull fighting ring. A sports columnist the other day -- white, for the record -- reported that he'd be remiss if he didn't take note: When Vick showed up for his arraignment, the animal rights protesters on one side of the street were white and those holding signs defending Vick on due process on the other side of the street were black.

Now comes Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor and syndicated columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, winner this year of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

A few days ago, Tucker, who is black, offered a lamentation of her own. It was that animal rights activists demonstrated against Vick, but that it was likely no demonstrations would be held in the heartbreaking matter of a 9-year-old girl -- black, it appears from the photograph accompanying the column as published online. The child was killed by stray bullets inside her home in southwest Atlanta.

Tucker agreed that the book should be thrown at Vick, but wrote that, for her part, she'd save her passion for the dead child and her fury for the thugs whose crossfire killed her.

The esteemed writer surely sells herself short. It's hard to imagine that Tucker could have copped a Pulitzer Prize for commentary if afflicted with such limitations of passion and fury as to find it necessary to ration that passion and fury.

The issue is man's inhumanity, his subhuman brutality.

It is the sickened recoiling against such evil among the civilized. It is not about categorizing and ranking victims and apportioning our revulsion.

Of course a child is a more tragic loss than a bulldog. But that one is sickened both by brutality to an innocent animal and the senseless killing of an innocent child is not to equate the victims. It's to apply an innate and singular human disgust to the inhumane acts themselves.

What the Pulitzer winner needs to do when it comes to brutality and senseless violence -- what all civilized people need to do -- is simply feel. She, and they, needn't stop to make calculations.

That some people demonstrate against animal cruelty and that not so many demonstrate about inner-city crime -- that has to do with insignificantly small groups of animal rights zealots and with the tragic regularity of inner-city crime.

It's a hard fact: Demonstrators would have a hard time keeping pace with inner-city human tragedy. Tucker herself notes in this column that there were seven murders in Philadelphia over a recent weekend.

Are some white people isolated and insulated from, and inured to, black-on-black crime? Yes. But that doesn't mean those of us sickened by animal cruelty are among them. In fact, studies of clear links between cruelty to animals and violent crime against people indicate that we're far less likely to be.

We face enough hard choices in this cruel world without concocting false ones.

John Brummett, an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, is author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@