Why What Happened to Cecil the Lion and Samuel DuBose Should Matter To Us All

At the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art one can find on view a small oil painting by 16th century Italian artist Annibale Carracci. The painting "Two Children Teasing a Cat" shows a smiling little boy in the company of a young girl, and an orange cat. Initially the actions in the painting appear to be innocent enough. Then one realizes that the boy is holding the cat with his left hand and has what appears to be a large crayfish in his right hand, and he has provoked the crayfish into clamping one of his massive claws onto one of the cat's ears.

What should we make of such wanton cruelty in children? It is merely a childish prank, or sign of deep-seated psychopathology that will someday erupt into a blatant disregard for the basic well being of others - whether animal or human?

The scene in this painting came to mind as I watched and absorbed with revulsion the news of the shooting death of Samuel DuBose, and the torture and death of Cecil, the Zimbabwean Lion.

Please don't get it twisted; I am not saying that Mr. DuBose was an animal, nor am I personifying the lion. Rather, I'm questioning why it is that the sanctity of some lives is not considered by others - as if they do not matter at all, or merely exist at another individual's discretion and not by their own agency.

So, yes, I care that a wealthy White American dentist went to Zimbabwe, and felt it was his right to torture and kill a magnificent animal. I also care that in Cincinnati a university police officer shot a man in the face - resulting in his death - simply because of a missing front license plate. Both of these tragic instances displayed the same reckless abandon for life, and are examples of historic White privilege that has existed for centuries. It is this same sensibility - a belief in supreme power, privilege - which undergirds the structural and systemic racism that exists against Black people in America.

The senseless murder of Mr. DuBose and slaughter of Cecil the Lion seem to me to be endemic of something very dire and disturbing - that is, the way in which some people feel they can act in any manner that they wish to whomever - and do so with impunity. In multiple incidents of violence against Black people by law enforcement officials, it is the character of the victim(s) that is dissected and eviscerated.

Tim Wise, the renowned American anti-racism activist and writer, addressed both tragedies with satire: "Clearly that dentist who killed Cecil the Lion misread the memo from George Zimmerman and the Cleveland/Staten Island//etc police: its African Americans not African Lions that you can kill without consequence."

More and more of late, I feel like someone trying to make sense of and deal with the inexplicable actions of others.