I am an animal-loving fanatic from Bloomington. I was enraged when I found out that my dentist, Walter J. Palmer, had killed Cecil, a popular lion living in a national park in Zimbabwe, with a bow and arrow. I slammed Dr. Palmer on social media. I got a call from a radio station in California. I agreed to an interview. I wanted to rant about trophy hunting. Nothing in this world grieves my soul more than seeing an animal suffer. I wanted to buy Palmer a one-way ticket back to Zimbabwe. And, because I felt so passionately about this, I actually researched the cost and was ready to pay the airfare.
In short, I was part of the angry mob.
But after the initial media feeding frenzy died down, I forgot about Palmer and went about my own selfish life.
Then in mid-August an event rocked my world. Criminal allegations were made against me in connection with a minor traffic incident. As with Palmer’s situation, no charges have been filed, but there is an ongoing investigation.
I found out with excruciating firsthand experience that I like the American justice system — innocent until proven guilty. Thank God I live in a country where I trust that the legal system will sort things out. I am not afraid. I believe the law will treat me fairly.
But there is no “fairness” for Palmer. Though he has not been charged with a crime at this point, he has already been judged and has paid a terrible price for the accusation — which he has denied — that he knowingly killed Cecil after the lion was lured out of the park.
After becoming “an accused” myself, I suddenly have empathy for Palmer. I finally looked at the facts objectively, and I educated myself. This is what I know to be true:
Hunting is legal. Trophy hunting is also legal. Palmer is not the only person to have killed a lion. Hundreds of exotic trophy animals are brought into the U.S. every year. I still detest trophy hunting, and I believe it is only a matter of time before it will be outlawed.
Putting aside my personal feelings about trophy hunting and what happened to Cecil, I believe that Palmer is very brave. He faced the white-hot spotlight of worldwide hatred. He received death threats. His family was threatened and harassed. He was judged in the media before any of the true facts of this case were known. His life will never be the same.
He faced a trial worse than any one of us can imagine, and he did not fall apart. He returned to practice as a dentist to serve his patients, like me.
Make no mistake. I hate what happened to Cecil. But at this point, I am more disturbed by what Palmer and his family have endured.
In terms of this particular hunting trip, I don’t know what Palmer did or did not do, or what he knew or did not know. And neither do you. I want justice and fairness, and that means justice and fairness for Palmer, too.
If you were accused, would you like to face an angry mob? Of course not. Can we please put aside the trial by media and public opinion and death threats? Is it too late to proceed in civilized fashion? I hope not.
I owe Palmer an apology. I initially reacted in anger when I was only focused on the suffering of Cecil. Now I see things differently, and I am sorry.
I spoke to Palmer recently. I simply told him I was glad he was back in practice and that he did not deserve what happened to him. I said a few more things. He really didn’t say anything at all. He just hugged me.
It was a brief conversation. I did not talk about trophy hunting, or the awful things I said about him in July. I hope to give him a full apology someday. And I hope that when he hears it, he will forgive me. I am truly sorry.
Annie Sager is at firstname.lastname@example.org.