Police dog bites send thousands of people to emergency departments every year.

Most of these bite victims are men, and studies show that in some places, they have been disproportionately Black. 

That may not be a coincidence, history shows. 

“Mauled,” a new short film produced by Reckon examines how dogs have been used to terrorize and control Black people and communities of color for centuries. 

The documentary film is based on reporting from a year-long investigation by AL.com, The Marshall Project, USA Today, IndyStar and the Invisible Institute. The collaboration won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. Viewers should be aware that the film contains violent images and accounts of dog attacks. 

It begins with an account from Ashley White, who was 26 years old in June 2015 when she was mauled by a police dog in Talladega, Ala. A local attorney who represented victims of police dogs in the town, said the department sought out a dog that would attack “Black members of their community.”

The film features Charlton Yingling, a history professor at the University of Louisville, who points to a long history in the Americas of using dogs to enforce racial hierarchies as well as to extract and exploit Black labor. This practice can be documented as far as the 1520s to Spanish Americas, now the Dominican Republic, Yingling said.

Tyler D. Parry, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who co-authored a book on the subject with Yingling, details the training of dogs to track runaway enslaved people. 

Later, Parry said, dogs became central to the penitentiary system, including to capture escaped prisoners, and tools to suppress civil rights demonstrations and attack protesters in cities such as Birmingham.

Today, police dogs are often portrayed as lovable members of local police forces, sometimes making appearances at elementary schools and community events.

However, the truth is that bites from these animals can maim and even kill. The dogs used by police departments are bred and trained to have a bite strong enough to punch through sheet metal.

No national database of police dog bites exists, and there is little accountability or redress available for victims. Police officers are often shielded from liability and jurors generally favor the dogs.

The Marshall Project and AL.com will continue their reporting on police dog attacks. You can share your experience with police dogs here.

Reckon is a part of Advance and Alabama Media Group, home to AL.com and It’s a Southern Thing. Our company’s stories and videos have garnered global and national recognition, including Emmys and Pulitzer Prizes.