Opinion: The death of Darwin is a crime, not just a community curiosity

Someone killed a cat by recklessly and dangerously speeding in a residential zone, a fact that seems to have been forgotten by many who argue that cats should stay indoors.

I was saddened to hear of the recent murder of Darwin, a cat beloved by the Berkeley community and a source of joy in our lives. It is a stark reminder of the fragility of the good things in life, and how hard some people work to destroy them.

Frankly, I find myself appalled at the attitude of some of the comments on the article, which suggest that cats should be categorically locked indoors for their own safety. Unlike dogs and other pets, cats are actually not domesticated; genetically, your friend’s cute house cat is remarkably similar to what’s found in the wild. However, what is much more shocking is the attitude of casual disregard for the fact that someone killed — yes, killed — a cat by recklessly and dangerously speeding in a residential zone.

I recognize that the world is a dangerous place these days. Rationally, even if one believes that the world would be better if cats didn’t have to be kept inside for their own safety, one can still believe that, given that the world is the way it is, housecats should be kept on a fairly strict leash and watched over with a careful eye. Nevertheless, that fact does not mean that reckless drivers — murderers, in fact — are immediately absolved of all moral responsibility.

As a thought experiment, suppose that every single time you stepped outside of your house, I persistently stalked and harassed you. One can rationally recognize that while I continue to do so — while the threat is present and active — you should remain indoors for your own safety. Does that mean that you are wrong for trying to go outside? Does that mean that it’s completely fine for me to engage in such harassment, and that it’s actually your fault for leaving your house in the first place? Does that mean that the police shouldn’t apprehend, detain, and prosecute me to the fullest extent of the law?

Hopefully you will agree that the answer to all three questions is a resounding NO.

So why, exactly, are we treating the murderer in this case as anything less than a threat to public safety? Is the suggestion that car drivers have no choice but to speed around, involuntarily killing whatever happens to lie in their path? When people step into the driver’s seat, do they lose all capacity for reasoning, turning into blind automatons which must recklessly slaughter the defenseless?

Perhaps we are desensitized to vehicular violence. Recall, if you will, the recent massacre of nearly 60 people on Las Vegas by the gunman Stephen Paddock. Imagine if he committed two such massacres every single day of the year. The scope of those killings would then be comparable to annual automobile-related deaths. Where are the calls for greater car regulation? Where is the outcry for background checks and psychiatric evaluations before we give someone a license to operate a multi-ton piece of heavy machinery in public?

The usual rejoinder to this argument is a condescending reminder that cars are — gasp — useful. To that, I need only point out that our cities and neighborhoods are not designed by God and pre-built for us by His angels but rather the result of human action, both deliberate and not. I submit that if we were all fully conscious of the bloody cost of a world full of cars, we would ensure that our cities were planned such that car ownership would be viewed by most as an unnecessary and frivolous expense.

The article ends by reminding us: “Darwin didn’t have to die. We don’t need to drive that fast.” This is true. It’s also like stabbing someone to death and then telling his parents “well, I didn’t really need to pick up the knife and forcibly plunge it into your child’s abdomen.” That is also literally true. It is nevertheless a gross understatement of the atrocity of this tragedy.

Let us come together in support of Darwin‘s spirit, and against those who would have us minimize the importance of his life or the joy he brought into ours. I will conclude with this beautiful comment from frequent Berkeleyside commenter Daniel:

The animals bring us so much love, so much joy;
And sometimes, if you look deeply enough into their eyes;
And hold them softly enough in your arms;
The animals bring us into the presence of holiness.

Zhihuan Li, a consultant in embedded systems technology, has lived in Berkeley since 2010.