06/23/04 — Coonslaughter: A strange thing happened to a Tar Heel lad in Georgia

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Coonslaughter: A strange thing happened to a Tar Heel lad in Georgia

In the western North Carolina town of Marble, a lot of folks grew up eating an occasional portion of coon meat. Undoubtedly, its popularity, and that of other game, increased after they had mined out the last bit of the resource for which Marble was named.

Raccoon isn’t bad if you know how to cook it. Some folks like to cook it in a pressure cooker for a while and then roast it, spiced up with bay leaves or whatever. Some do it the easy way — just roast it in a big pan surrounded by sweet potatoes to absorb some of the fat.

That might sound peculiar to city slickers, but to a lot of country folks it’s as natural as buying a slab of cow meat and cooking it. Hardy men have enjoyed the song of their beloved coon dogs through many a chilly night by campfires deep in the woods.

So Erik Robert Zimmerman, being a mountain lad from Marble, must have been shocked last December when he got arrested for killing a raccoon.

It happened in Georgia. Zimmerman, who is 20, goes to the University of Georgia in Athens. He says he and some fraternity buddies saw an erratic-acting coon and, fearing it might be rabid or something, they threw a construction pylon at it to run it off, but it hit the critter and wounded it. Zimmerman said he didn’t want it to suffer, so he shot it with a pellet gun and killed it.

It didn’t go to waste. The students dressed it and ate it.

You might question whether someone who thought a coon was rabid would eat its meat. Well, that part of the story does sound a little suspicious. Maybe when those boys saw that old coon they didn’t see it as a cute little ball of fur but as a steaming hot roast, redolent with the aroma of bay leaves, surrounded by soft, moist sweet potatoes. And maybe it was later, after dinner, and after someone started raising a ruckus, that they decided the thing might have looked a little rabid. Who knows?

Anyway, somebody called the authorities, and soon the Athens-Clarke County Animal Control officers, as they say in police parlance, “responded to the crime scene.” Zimmerman, the shooter, was charged.

The state of Georgia has spent thousands of dollars already on his prosecution. There have been hearings, motions, investigations and what-all, but the case is still pending. Erik Zimmerman is pursuing his education under the threat of — get this — a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

This is the kind of lunacy that results from granting animals precedence over people. The justice system in Georgia should turn its attention to things more important than the killing and eating of a coon, and Erik Zimmerman should be allowed to get on with his life without being branded as a criminal.

Published in Editorials on June 23, 2004 11:54 AM