It simply does not happen with your average violent crime.
District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III has prosecuted all sorts of brutal, vicious offenses. Murders and stabbings. Homicides and assaults.
He hears from people on the street, at restaurants, when he picks up his dry cleaning. They ask about crimes in their neighborhoods, the ones that come too close for comfort.
But there is one type of crime that seems to disturb people across the strata of society, that provokes people to speak out, that lets loose the letters and email.
“The cases that people always ask me about are the animal cases,” Sedita said. “These are the cases that seem to really upset people.”
It is not hard to understand. Take one look at Phoenix, the Jack Russell terrier viciously set aflame this fall, and your heart will bleed. His unbearably cute face with its black snout striped white makes it impossible not to wonder who would hurt a defenseless animal.
But there is another question that lingers over these types of crimes, as shock and support pour in from across the country: Why is the public reaction to animal cruelty so seemingly lopsided to other types of crimes?
It is not just a cliché.
Sedita has seen it time and again. He has juggled murder cases with little or no public comment while an assistant district attorney down the hall has gotten buried in email over the twisted killing of a rabbit.
He remembers a double homicide, an 83-year-old man and wife, savagely stabbed to death in their Buffalo home. Two or three letters came in. It was that same summer that a donkey was cruelly beaten. More than 500 letters, phone calls and email messages arrived.
The contrast has stuck with Sedita in the decade since.
“People understand, intellectually, that murder is a much more serious crime than aggravated cruelty to animals,” Sedita said. “But I think, viscerally, aggravated cruelty to animals, especially when an animal is doused with lighter fluid and set on fire, that really upsets people.”
What does this disparity tell us about society? It's hard to say, really. I suspect most people care deeply about violence. We know the people of Buffalo will pour out their generosity for those in tough times. We know, especially this time of year, people are not blind to suffering.
Sedita sees the world in terms of empirical evidence. He does not easily weigh in when asked what we should take away from the underwhelming public response to some crimes. “I think there's been a certain desensitization to violence when that violence is person on person,” Sedita said.
Perhaps it tells us more about our saturation with crime than it tells us anything about those whose blood boils when a puppy is hurt. There are so many violent crimes against people. Too many deaths. If we poured our souls into each one, our hearts might turn cold.
I wish that wasn't reality.