It is a credit to humanity that we can be unified in outrage at the death of an innocent creature like Cecil the lion, the 13-year-old protected Zimbabwean lion who was illegally poached by wealthy midwestern dentist Walter Palmer last week.
However, one has to wonder why we cannot similarly come together to condemn the deaths of women of color who die in police custody like Sandra Bland.
The loss of a rare and beautiful creature like Cecil has stirred outrage from around the world. The only controversy seems to be which continent gets to prosecute Palmer first.
While a few mush-brained “Libertarian” types have come down on Palmer’s side, the bulk of the reaction to his crimes — which include bribing of wildlife officials — has been negative.
Not so the death of Sandra Bland, which has seen major network news anchors asserting that she could have used her lit cigarette as a weapon against the police. Others have argued that Bland only had her own “arrogance” to blame for the fact that she ended up dead in a prison cell over an improper lane change.
Or what about the other women of color who have died in police custody over the last two weeks?
In Alabama, 18-year-old Kindra Chapman was found dead in her cell on July 14, just hours after she had been booked into the Homewood City Jail. Officials say she hanged herself with a bed sheet.
Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls released a statement this week that said, “At this time, I have seen no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing in the arrest and detention of Kindra Chapman, and I believe that her death is the result of a suicide.”
Mount Vernon, Maryland resident Raynetta Turner, 43, was arrested on a shoplifting charge Saturday and was found dead in her cell on Monday. She told arresting officers that she had medical issues. She was taken to a hospital and examined, then released back into police custody on Sunday night.
When police came to take the mother of 8 before the judge at 2 p.m. on Monday, she was found lying on her side in her cell, unresponsive. She was pronounced dead by paramedics.
“All I know is my wife is dead and no one is saying anything,” said her husband Herman Turner to WABC-TV.
In Cleveland, Ohio, 37-year-old Ralkina Jones was arrested on Friday night after a domestic dispute. Cleveland Heights Jail officials found her dead in her cell on Sunday morning, July 26.
Jones’ sister Renee Ashford told Cleveland.com, “One thing I can say about my sister is that she would want us to find out why, just why, like you can’t tell me one minute I see my sister and then the next day she’s dead.”
On Wednesday, July 22, South Carolina prison officials found 50-year-old Joyce Curnell unresponsive in her cell.
Charleston County Sheriff’s officers apprehended Curnell on a bench warrant over a shoplifting charge and she was booked into the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center on July 21. Her cause of death has yet to be determined.
Sure, wildlife are photogenic and apolitical. Cecil the lion never made a video for #BlackLivesMatter and half of the people in the U.S. aren’t trying to convince themselves that somehow Cecil deserved his fate.
And while African lions may be endangered, isn’t it time we admit that here in the U.S., black lives are endangered, too?
We can do better than this, and if we are ever going to live up to our nation’s purported principles of fair play and equality for all, we absolutely must do better.