He is not quite Public Enemy No 1 but it might seem like that to 22-year-old Andre Robinson, who on Wednesday morning will face trial in Brooklyn for an alleged act of violence committed back in May that landed him on all the tabloid front pages and stirred a froth of New York indignation.
Mr Robinson, who is accused of wilfully kicking a cat in the gut and sending it flying high over a fence in the public housing project where he lives, is unlucky on two counts. Firstly, the act was caught on video, which he proceeded – most unwisely – to post on Facebook. Secondly, prosecutors all over the US are getting serious about cruelty to animals.
The crackdown has come in part thanks to perseverance of animal rights groups who for years have been pressuring police departments to create special units dedicated to pursuing anyone caught abusing pets or livestock. The NYPD set up its Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad in January, coinciding with the arrival of Bill de Blasio as the city’s new mayor. Pet welfare is apparently higher up his agenda than it was his predecessor’s. Atop the Robinson case is the new Brooklyn District Attorney, Kenneth P Thompson. He told The New York Times that the trouble Mr Robinson finds himself in – he could face a year behind bars if found guilty – is “indicative of my determination to be strong on folks who think they can just abuse any type of animal”.
And he confirmed that the new stance is: “We’re going to take these cases seriously.”
A conviction in the case would be victory for the animal rights activists who have been piling into the Brooklyn courthouse every time Mr Robinson has been called in for a hearing.
They are set to cram the court again on Wednesday morning, hoping for a replay of a case earlier this year in Brooklyn when animal rights groups essentially hunted down a man accused of setting a cat on fire. He was caught, convicted and is serving one year.
Not everyone, however, is convinced that the police and the courts should be diverting resources to cases like Mr Robinson whose victim, a grey one-year-old called King, survived its short flight fairly handily. The stray has since been adopted. The trend to punish animal abusers comes at the same time that states and the federal government are searching for ways to reduce America’s gigantic prison population.
Mr Robinson has said that since his arrest he cannot walk down the street in Brooklyn without people casting him dastardly looks. “I shouldn’t have done it,” he conceded to a Daily News reporter last week in a courthouse corridor. “It was just a spur of the moment, it just happened.” He added: “I was trying to shoo it away, but it didn’t go away. I figured if I kicked it, it would go away.”
Among those who have toiled to strengthen the laws on animal abuse in New York is Linda Rosenthal, who represents Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the State Assembly. It is no longer just a “side issue, relegated to something a few over-passionate people cared about,” she said.Reuse content