“I am Cecil” A tactic so often used to discuss issues of judicial injustice or police brutality. Crowds will stand in protest with signs that read “I am (the victim’s name)”
Such signs are poignant. They show us that the injustice done to a stranger could have been done to us – a member of our own family, or our own children. It sends a message that to allow injustice to run rampant in our streets and courtrooms is akin to allowing an injustice inflicted upon ourselves to go ignored. It is a sign to say “when one is inflicted, we are all inflicted” – lest we take a stand.
The signs resonate because they are a reminder that any of us could fall victim to the injustice being fought. However, the use of this technique in reference to a lion shot by a big-game hunter holds none of the aforementioned weight.
Your white liberal self is not in danger of being shot on the fields of Zimbabwe by a big-game hunter.
Are you a serial killer? Does eating a child for breakfast before a lounge in the sun followed by ripping a sleeping neighbor’s body apart for an afternoon snack sound like a good day?
No? – then you probably aren’t Cecil.
If a lion owned by a person or group were killed, I would hope the owners would have another lion bought for them by the individual who wrongfully killed it. That is the only extent to which I care about the death of a lion. And even then, I care only because of the hassle to replace it the human owners have to go through.
The outrage over the death of a lion should be a jarring wake-up call. It tragically illustrates the lack of humanity, empathy, and perspective in our culture. I do not think this showcases how wonderfully empathetic the American people must be to care for a lion. I think of how shallow they must be, how cold, and out of touch they are, to more highly esteem the beauty of lions than the human lives destroyed by them.
Why do they show no compassion for the villagers who can not voyage out to find food or firewood for fear of being eaten? The father whose son was killed and eaten by such a beast? Why can the death of a Zimbabwe lion result in calls for action and justice, but not the Zimbabwe people killed by lions or those dying of hunger or violence?
In The New York Times, Goodwell Nzou, offered perspective as a Zimbabwe native in his article – In Zimbabwe, We Don’t Cry for Lions
Cecil who? I wondered. When I turned on the news and discovered that the messages were about a lion killed by an American dentist, the village boy inside me instinctively cheered: One lion fewer to menace families like mine.
My excitement was doused when I realized that the lion killer was being painted as the villain. I faced the starkest cultural contradiction I’d experienced during my five years studying in the United States.
Did all those Americans signing petitions understand that lions actually kill people? That all the talk about Cecil being “beloved” or a “local favorite” was media hype? Did Jimmy Kimmel choke up because Cecil was murdered or because he confused him with Simba from “The Lion King”?
In reality, the lions of Zimbabwe are viewed as objects of terror. In Nzou’s village a solitary lion prowled near his home. Trips for survival and firewood were made only in groups armed with machetes and spears for self defense against an attack.
The lion sucked the life out of the village: No one socialized by fires at night; no one dared stroll over to a neighbor’s homestead.
When the lion was finally killed, no one cared whether its murderer was a local person or a white trophy hunter, whether it was poached or killed legally. We danced and sang about the vanquishing of the fearsome beast and our escape from serious harm.
Dr. Walter Palmer did nothing shocking or immoral. Lions in the wild rarely live past age 12, and Cecil was already 13. Roughly 800 lions have been legally killed in Zimbabwe over the past decade without any media frenzy.
Palmer has lived his life until now with those around him fully aware of his love for big-game hunting, and loving him just the same. He is clearly an incredible dentist – given his great smile (a wonderful testimony to his work) and the fact he can afford to shell out over $50,000 to hunt large game in foreign countries.
Yet PETA has called for his death. Zimbabwe is demanding an extradition of the dentist to be brought to justice. His home and work addresses were released to the public. Now this ordinary man with a passion for big-game hunting has thousands calling for the destruction of his business. His life and livelihood are threatened and he is facing potential criminal charges. Can you not see that if such societal crucifixion can happen to a man like Palmer – a productive, successful member of society who has helped thousands of lives with his practice – then it can happen to anyone?
So no, you are not Cecil. You do not have to live in fear of being poached or killed by a big-game hunter. But you are Dr. Palmer.
One day you could do something slightly unusual, such as attend an animal rights rally. A statement you say in anger or in passing could be caught on camera and go viral. Strangers who don’t even know you, and will never meet you, could hate you. You could receive death threats from those strangers saying they believe a person like you should not even be allowed to live. Your address could be given out, putting your life in danger. In the media frenzy your “hunting loving” boss could catch wind of your views and within hours your job and livelihood are gone.
So really, if you want to bring light to those issues which connect us by their unjust nature, their ability to afflict everyday people, and the power they have to destroy an individual’s life as we know it – then your sign should read “I am Dr. Palmer”.