When I first started dating my boyfriend he asked me what I thought was the most important issue facing the world. I said, unequivocally, the environment. Without a healthy environment, the rest of it doesn’t matter. We won’t be here to worry about the economy, or politics, or terrorism, or inequality. So when news broke about the illegal killing of Cecil the Lion, my blood boiled.
For me, this is just more evidence of the kind of human arrogance–and sometimes ignorance–that is responsible for everything from climate change to habitat destruction to plain old littering. Scientists warn that were are headed for a mass extinction: “While the extinction of a species is normal and occurs at a natural ‘background’ rate of around 1-5 per year, species loss is currently occurring at over 1,000 times the background rate.”
African lions could be extinct by 2050. Yet, somehow, it’s still legal to kill them (as long as you have the right permits and do it in a certain way). That is ridiculous. Biodiversity is important, and directly effects human health and well-being. But even if it didn’t, the world without lions (or elephants, rhinos, whales, or some tiny rainforest treefrog) is a world diminished.
But while the world was outraged over the death of Cecil, some worried that there wasn’t enough anger over the murder of Samuel DuBose (and the suspcious death of Sandra Bland). I didn’t entirely understand this. I saw plenty of anger over the DuBose case. My various feeds (Twitter and Facebook) were filled with stories about all of these deaths. I listen to NPR all day in my office, and heard plenty of reports on the latest cop to shoot an unarmed black man. So, from the start, I wasn’t quite sure where the idea that people weren’t angry about this was coming from. But I realize that NPR and my social media feeds reflect my own biases, so maybe in the wider world people weren’t talking about the DuBose and Bland deaths as much as it seemed like they were to me.
I started thinking back over the last year filled with killer cops caught on tape. We’re coming up on a year since Michael Brown’s death and it seems that every few weeks since then has been marred by another one of these sad and maddening stories. While the institutional responses to these cases have often been awful, I’ve also been proud of the way people–ordinary citizens–have responded.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement is going strong, and I truly believe we’re living through an extraordinary moment–a sort of second civil rights movement, where we deal with the murkier side of racism. Unfortunately, some people may be a little fatigued by the constant cycle of outrage that is needed to maintain the proper level of anger from one of these deaths to the next. And in the case of Bland things seem less clear cut. (Here’s a collection of NPR’s coverage of this case, just in case you aren’t up to speed.)
Whether or not you believe the police killed Sandra Bland, I think we can agree on a few things. Let’s say up front that no one deserves to go to jail for changing lanes without a signal (and, guess what, being disrespectful to a cop is not a crime). They certainly shouldn’t be there for days. If, somehow, they do end up behind bars, if they’ve disclosed a history of depression, they should be put under suicide watch (so they can live to sue you). Still, this case suffers from being less cut and dry. There’s no video of a cop shooting Sandra Bland in the back. And negligence doesn’t get people riled up the same way shooting someone on camera does.
That being said, there is a video of Sam DuBose being shot–which totally contradicts the statements of officers (including the one now charged with his murder, and the ones who lied for him). The video is incredibly hard to watch, but if you haven’t done so already, you should.
In this case, the police officer was swiftly arrested and charged, which could be the reason for a perceived lack of outrage. We don’t have to protest to make sure the officer faces charges. The only thing to do now is to wait for the trial–and possibly be outraged if the cop is not convicted.
And I won’t deny that there are people out there who just plain don’t care about Sandra Bland, Sam DuBose, or any of the people who were murdered or died unnecessarily at the hands of police this year. I can’t and won’t speak for those people, because I cannot begin to understand them.
None of this means we can’t be angry about what happened to Cecil, or to any of the other animals killed by trophy hunters and poachers. The loss of animal life in the face of so much human tragedy may seem trivial, but I just can’t agree. It’s not just about the one animal, it’s about an entire struggling ecosystem that is already threatened by climate change and its effects. That will, inevitably, effect all of us.
Black rhinos are so endangered that scientists are trying to crowdfund a genome project. There are only four northern white rhinos left on earth. African elephants, which the creepy Trump kids have been known to kill, have dwindled from 7-10 million in the 1930s to just 300,000. Despite the rate at which we do horrible, terrible, inhuman things to each other, homo-sapiens are not dwindling in numbers (much to the planet’s detriment).
All of this brings me to a question I’ve been thinking–and debating–about a lot lately. Absent any religious or purely selfish rationalizations, what makes human life inherently more important than animal life? I’ve been reading A Wolf Called Romeo about a wolf that befriends the dogs, and eventually the people, of Juneau Alaska in the early aughts. More than once it is mentioned that wildlife is managed for the benefit of humans. In this case that basically means predators are killed (or “controlled”) with the idea that it will help game populations which people can then go out and kill. That seems entirely misguided. We should be managing wildlife for the benefit of the wildlife and the ecosystem–to help ensure the survival of species that are faced with increasing challenges from human kind.
As long as people are on this planet, we need to start treating each other, and everything else on this planet, better. If the entire human race just *poof* disappeared tomorrow, wouldn’t everything else on this planet–other than our domestic and captive animals–be better off? That’s sad! It shouldn’t be that way. We can, and should, do better.