Lion Lives Matter: Contrasting Responses to Tragedy

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Reuters reports that Zimbabweans are baffled about why Americans are so upset over the killing the Cecil the Lion when villagers who are killed by lions never attract much concern or attention from the West at all.

African Americans are also somewhat baffled by the flood of outrage; after all, we have spent the past 12 months trying to convince our fellow Americans that they should value our lives as much as they value their own. We have done this with limited effect. All kinds of excuses have been offered to justify, change the subject or explain away the loss of Black lives at the hands of authorities and vigilantes, and to resist reforms that would make the American criminal justice system more transparent and more accountable.

Dark humor is now circulating within African American communities about how differently the American mainstream would react to the Cecil the Lion story if they used the same logic in discussing the death of a lion that they use when they discuss the deaths of unarmed Black Americans.

This humor draws on comments that were actually made to explain away the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, Micheal Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Sean Bell, Walter Scott, Jordan Davis, Kimani Gray, Samuel DuBose, Kendric McDade, and others:

“That lion wasn’t a saint, you know…”

“Hey, nobody ever shot ME with a crossbow and a gun, so you know he must have been up to no good.”

“I saw the video and the photos but it’s hard to say what really happened…”

“I wasn’t there. It’s hard to say what that lion was doing under the cover of darkness.”

“I saw a video where that lion was giving the hunter attitude…”

“The hunter said that Cecil got angrier and angrier as the hunter was shooting at him and that Cecil morphed into a demon before the hunter’s very eyes, so you can’t blame him for being afraid.”

“Those lion punks always get away.”

“Oh please, you’re going to criticize the hunter for standing his ground?”

“The hunter got out of his jeep, with crossbow and rifle, and stalked Cecil across the savanna because he feared for his life.”

“Oh sure, blame the hunter, but what about lion-on-lion violence?”

“Now everyone is talking about ‘lion lives matter,’ which is lionist because they should be saying ‘all lives matter.’”

“What kind of a name is ‘Cecil’ anyway? Why do lions always give their cubs such strange names?”

“I heard that the autopsy revealed that Cecil the Lion had a trace of weed in his bloodstream and you know he didn’t have a job, so….”

“I hope the lions don’t disrupt traffic again over this.”

Behind the laughter is the realization that the death of Cecil the Lion is tragic, but it is even more tragic that many Americans don’t seem to extend their concern for the loss of life to human beings in the United States.

C. Matthew Hawkins taught community economic development at the University of Pittsburgh and American history at Carlow University in Pittsburgh. He will soon be attending St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore as a theologian from the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese.

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