Michael Vick is every bit as entitled to his day in court as anyone else accused of a crime.
But as I have said in other cases: The presumption of innocence applies only to the members of a jury.
Thus, the rest of us are free to believe the Atlanta Falcons quarterback-in-limbo is up to his neck in the disgusting "sport" of dog fighting, just as the NAACP is free to assert that we shouldn't "rush to judgment" (though, strangely, their North Carolina chapter wasn't quite so generous with the falsely accused members of the Duke lacrosse team).
No matter. Here's what is important: Whether innocent or guilty, Vick is providing a tremendous service for animal rights.
Huh? Michael Vick will help animals? What's next - Hannibal Lecter promoting vegetarianism? No, really. I'm being serious.
Just as a tragic death can result in improved safety measures at a dangerous intersection, so can the high-profile dogfighting indictment of Vick lead to improvements in animal cruelty laws - especially in Georgia, where the laws are notoriously weak.
The bonus is that the activities Vick is accused of didn't even happen in Georgia; his alleged ring was on his property in Virginia.
Just as federal authorities believe Vick's celebrity boosted the profile of the illicit "Bad Newz" dog-training and fighting facility, so has his notoriety renewed awareness of a bill by state Sen. Chip Rogers, a Woodstock, Ga., Republican. It would put teeth in the state's dog-fighting laws.
As Rogers told the Atlanta paper, "Certainly, bringing this issue to the public conscience can help rid our state of the torture of dogs."
Let's hope so. Back in January, when the 2007 session of the Georgia Legislature convened, I wrote that Rogers' bill should win easy passage despite failing in the previous session. Yet in 2007 it received the same fate; passage in the Senate, stalled in the House.
But that was before Vick's indictment. Next session? Look for an election-year stampede of pandering lawmakers trying to make sure their name isn't associated with Michael Vick.
Presumed innocent? Hah. Politicians will stream to the well of the House and Senate to pontificate on pet protection, to denounce the evils of dog-fighting and squeeze out a tear in memory of their own beloved childhood companions.
Sure, the politicians' conversion will be as phony as their previous lack of support was gutless. But at least it should help Rogers' bill pass.
And just what would that bill do? It would make it illegal to own, breed, purchase, transport or train a dog for fighting or "baiting" other dogs, and would make it illegal to bet, referee, promote, advertise or sponsor dog fights or dog-fighting activities.
In other words, Rogers' bill would outlaw practices that any sane human being would be amazed aren't already illegal, yet the bill hasn't passed despite the opportunities of two legislative sessions.
Just think: When it passes next year, we'll have Michael Vick to thank for it.
Make 7 lucky
Meanwhile, for those as sickened as I am by the allegations against Vick - which last week got much tougher for him to deny when a co-defendant pled guilty and agreed to help the feds - I strongly suggest you fight animal cruelty with assistance to local rescue organizations, including the Columbia County Humane Society.
We help them each Sunday by publishing the Pet Page, which appears today on page 7. But the real help they need is in donations to help build a shelter on their land on Columbia Road.
In honor of Vick's No. 7 jersey, I suggest a donation of $7, or $70, or $700. But any amount will be appreciated. Send checks to P.O. Box 204771, Martinez, Ga., 30907.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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