By Carol Tannenhauser
On Tuesday, December 28, after entering Riverside Park near West 83rd Street, an Upper West Side woman (who prefers to remain anonymous) happened upon a sight that “saddened and disgusted” her.
“…an animal had been chopped up or dismembered and left on a plate,” her husband explained in an email to West Side Rag. “I called 311 to report it, but thought it might be important to also let local media know.” His concern was that there is “a person extremely dangerous to animals walking around out there in our neighborhood. We don’t want this to happen again.”
On Wednesday, December 29, another reader wrote in.
“Warning: the attached photo is real and awful,” read an email from a second woman, who also chose to remain anonymous. (We chose not to show the photo.) “Was walking my friend’s dog in Riverside Park near 84th Street and discovered a plate with four dismembered dog legs. Called 311 and police. Not sure if the cops will come, but you all need to know.”
A call to the NYPD’s press office provided answers.
“It’s related to Santeria,” Detective Denise Moroney told West Side Rag, in a phone conversation. “The animal legs were from a goat, not a dog or cat. They came from a butcher. The responding officers could tell by the cuts. Parks came and took them away.”
Santeria is an Afro-Caribbean religion based on beliefs and traditions originating in West Africa, with some Roman Catholic elements. “It grew out of the slave trade in Cuba,” according to the BBC.
“One of the principal forms of devotion in Santeria is animal sacrifice,” US Courts explains. “Sacrifices are performed at birth, marriage, and death rites; for the cure of the sick; for the initiation of new members and priests; and during an annual celebration. The sacrificed animal is cooked and eaten at some ceremonies.”
The practice is legal — a landmark 1993 Supreme Court decision declared it so.
“The issue was whether local city laws directed at animal sacrifice as part of the Santeria religion violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” US Courts explained. “Justice Kennedy concluded that the local laws violated the Free Exercise Clause because they were designed to persecute or oppress a religion or its practices.”
Animal sacrifices must, however, be humane.
“Every state has enacted animal cruelty legislation that provides for criminal penalties. Thus, even though a state cannot flatly prohibit animal sacrifices, the state can mandate that the practice occur in a humane manner. Practitioners of animal sacrifice who do not adhere to the state requirements can be criminally prosecuted.”
Santeria was brought to the United States during the 1940s by Cuban immigrants. “It has been estimated that approximately 10 million individuals in the Americas are adherents,” according to the Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. “Somewhere between half a million and five million of them are located in the United States. It is believed that approximately 50,000 adherents reside in South Florida. In addition, there are also large clusters of practitioners in New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut.”