Vick’s arraignment draws anger from all sides
As quarterback for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, Michael Vick has seen his share of screaming crowds, but none like the one he saw this afternoon. After weeks of media reports about his part in an alleged dogfighting ring, the former Virginia Tech standout pled "not guilty" in federal court in Richmond and faced hundreds of animal rights protesters who came to express their anger about Vick's alleged activities.
The Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had organized most of the protesters, some of whom were camped out across the street from the courthouse as early as 7am.
"This doesn't begin or end with Michael Vick," said PETA youth outreach manager Caleb Wheeldon. "It's about 40,000 people who fight dogs in this country. This is a unique opportunity for us to speak for the dogs."
That speech came in the form of loud booing and derision upon Vick's arrival.
"Tie him to a chain!" another shouted.
The words "Neuter Vick" adorned another's pink posterboard.
"I don't believe he's innocent until proven guilty," said Loudon County's Meredith Amonson, who, though unaffiliated with PETA, decided to bring her two dogs with her to the courthouse. "There's no way there can be 70 dogs who are malnourished and badly treated on your property and you be unaware of what's going on."
Though not as numerous, a vocal minority the crowd consisted of Vick supporters.
"This has nothing to do with dogfighting," said Richmond's Jean Morris. "I think they're going after Michael Vick because it's about racism. He's a valuable, contributing member of society. Why are they singling him out?"
Others spoke out for Vick's right to a fair trial in the court of public opinion.
"I'm here for what makes America great," said Michael Street, carrying a sign bearing the names of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant– two African American athletes accused but ultimately not convicted of violent crimes. "I have a nine-year-old daughter and I'm trying to teach her that, in this country, you are innocent until you are proven guilty by a jury of your peers, and that you should never prejudge people."
Donna Meyer, a VCU student who carried a "Neuter Vick" sign, said that while issues of race should be discussed in the public forum, today was not the day for it.
Asked about the role he believes race is playing in Vick's prosecution, Robin Shavers– an African-American member of PETA's delegation– expressed ambivalence.
"I'm not here to judge the man," he said. "Whether Mr. Vick is innocent or guilty, dogfighting is a problem in major cities, in rural areas, and this will hopefully bring more teeth to the fight against it."
And where many had assembled to vent their outrage, some were there for sheer spectacle.
"I'm here to support the city of Richmond and to fulfill a dream," said Rob Van der Eijk, who held a placard that read, "From Richmond, Sportscenter Is Next."
Vick's trial is set for November 26.