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  • Beyond Cages: Animal Law and Criminal Punishment by Justin Marceau
  • Angela Fernandez (bio)
Beyond Cages: Animal Law and Criminal Punishment. By Justin Marceau. (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2019. 293 pp. Paperback. $34.99. ISBN: 978-1-108-40545-4.)

Justin Marceau's book Beyond Cages: Animal Law and Criminal Punishment shines a light on three very serious problems in the U.S. animal protection movement brought on by its connections to the criminal justice system: (a) implicit racism baked into the race neutral or color-blind position the movement takes; (b) reliance on faulty "link" research used to justify harsher sentences for individuals who harm animals; and (c) having accepted in the 2000s, either explicitly or implicitly, the availability of tougher felony convictions in exchange for industry-wide agricultural exemptions for cruelty prosecutions involving food animals. Marceau argues that these positions have seriously compromised the animal protection movement's aspirations to be a civil rights and social justice movement. It is a mistake, he argues, to yoke a movement motivated by "progressive social reform" to the train of "regressive social policy" (p. 1), namely, the misguided "carceral logic" of the U.S. criminal justice system (p. 2). Marceau writes: "Incarceration is a most unlikely ally for a movement that might earnestly desire far-reaching social reform" (p. 6).

First I'll discuss race, an issue that has become even more pressing since the book was published. Chapter 5 takes up the issue most directly, arguing that "race is never irrelevant when it comes to justice system reforms" (p. 152). This chapter is highly instructive reading for anyone wondering why the animal rights movement is seen as a White movement that does not care about racialized or otherwise marginalized people. The problem goes beyond the Whiteness of the membership and leaders of animal protection groups and an absence of African Americans in the movement (p. 42). There are, of course, the issues that frequently come up in terms of conflicts between animal rights groups, and those defending cultural or religious practices that involve cruelty to animals, and the xenophobia that is unleashed on those positioned as "others," "outsiders," "barbarians," or "uncivilized." There is also the industry scapegoating and blame of low-income (and often racialized) workers who end up being the targets of animal cruelty undercover investigations on factory farms in which animal protection groups participate (see pp. 15–17, 188–191). White privileged people seem to care a lot about animals. Marceau provides the following striking quote from Black feminist Roxane Gay, who, reacting to the killing of Cecil the Lion in 2015, wrote in The New York Times: "I'm personally going [End Page 114] to start wearing a lion costume when I leave my house so if I get shot, people will care" (p. 163). Sympathy for the animal abounds. However, there is usually zero understanding for the abuser. Here Marceau provides an extended analysis of Black professional football player Michael Vick's dogfighting prosecution. Marceau also discusses what happened to Andre Robinson, a less high-profile case in which a young Black man was prosecuted to the full extent of the law for kicking a cat in 2014 (see pp. 52–53, 186–187). The harsh approach advocated by animal advocates in these and other cases is hypocritical and inconsistent, Marceau says, for "a movement that trades on the need for compassion, understanding, and empathy" (p. 181). Relentless pressure for "mandatory minimums, the prosecution of juveniles as adults, more felony prosecutions, [and] offender registries" (p. 151), with no consideration for the disparate racial impact of such measures, is "itself racist" (p. 154). Incarceration and its concomitant losses ("criminogenic consequences") relating to voting; housing; being barred from office and certain professions, both public and private, especially those that involve a security clearance; holding a government contract or obtaining government licenses and permits; sitting on a jury or testifying as a witness in a court of law; adopting, fostering, or maintaining custody of one's own children (the list goes on and on) are tantamount to a "New Jim Crow," constituting a human rights abuse (see pp. 26, 34–37, 40, 155, 253). Marceau convincingly argues...