Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

A Dentist Killing Cecil the Lion Is Outrageous, but So Is an Officer Killing a Black Man or Woman

Aug 03, 2015

When I tell people that I am a vegetarian, many are often surprised. I of course explain the health benefits, but I also explain the benefits to our environment, as well as my views on animals. As an animal activist for the last several years, I, like many, was outraged at the senseless killing of Cecil the lion. In fact, I even support extraditing the man accused of killing Cecil, Dr. Walter Palmer, to Zimbabwe. But as we are enraged over this tragic death, we should be just as outraged over the horrendous killings of Blacks at the hands of police. Why do we not see the same level of universal uproar, condemnation and calls for accountability when an unarmed Black man or woman is gunned down with little to no regard for the value of his or her life? Perhaps it's time the world unites around the protection of Black lives, just as it is now rallying around Cecil the lion.

August 9th marks the one-year anniversary of the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. My organization, National Action Network, was on the ground pushing for answers after his distraught father contacted me for assistance. I preached at Brown's funeral and watched yet another family grapple with the sudden loss of a loved one. It's hard to believe that it has been a year since that catastrophic moment, and even more difficult to comprehend the number of officer-involved shootings/killings we have witnessed since then. Couple that with the lack of prosecutions, convictions and accountability of those accused of committing the killings and we are at a crisis moment. Our collective response must be just as swift and fervent as it is for the death of a lion.

Many of us recently watched the disturbing video of a University of Cincinnati police officer shoot unarmed Samuel DuBose in the head after a traffic stop. Even the prosecutor called the incident a "senseless, asinine shooting". This latest tragedy comes at a time when we are still recovering from the death of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old woman who died while in police custody in a Texas jail. We watched another troubling video where you can hear Sandra yelling that the arresting officer slammed her head into the ground. Questions still remain surrounding her death. As civil rights leaders, young activists and concerned citizens demand answers to these and many more cases, we need the entire nation and the world to do the same.

Those that can be upset about the death of a lion but cannot be just as upset about a Black man being choked to death by police must re-examine their humanity. Animal rights are vital, and I will always stand on the right side of that issue, but what happened to human rights? How can people just go about their business and ignore the fact that unarmed Americans are being killed during routine traffic stops, walking down the street, shopping in a Walmart store, or a million other regular activities? The ones who are upset over the death of Cecil but cannot see the tragedy and injustice in the death of a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland need to take a serious look in the mirror. It says more about them than anyone else.

As one who has fought against police brutality and pushed for reform for decades, I can tell you firsthand that this issue is not new. But with the advent of certain technology and the accessibility of cameras and social media, people can finally see with their own eyes what we have been talking about for so long. Blacks, Latinos and the poor have often been subjected to profiling, harassment and police misconduct with much of society either unaware or uninterested in their plight. Now that modern technology has brought this reality into our homes, onto our computers, phones and everywhere, how can people still claim ignorance?

If the death of Cecil the lion leaves you angry and frustrated, it might be time for you to be just as furious over the deaths of unarmed civilians killed and beaten by those hired to protect and serve us. Just a thought.