Valuing a gorilla’s life over a Black child

SUSAN K. SMITH | 6/13/2016, 11:26 a.m. | Updated on 6/20/2016, 11:39 a.m.
The story is as old as news cycles go: A 3-year-old toddler fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati ...
Susan K Smith

(George Curry Media) – The story is as old as news cycles go: A 3-year-old toddler fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and the end-result is that the gorilla was shot and killed, but the toddler was rescued, apparently unharmed.

It’s a bittersweet end-result, yes? The little boy is okay; the 400-pound gorilla, probably pretty stunned that the little guy was in his space, dragged him around but didn’t hurt him. But because the situation was so tenuous, zoo authorities decided the only way to ensure the safety of the child was to shoot and kill Harambe, the gorilla.

Immediately, the outcry and outrage rose to deafening levels. An online petition was begun by animal rights activists and had by the next day garnered more than 330,000 signatures. Activists said that the gorilla should have been tranquilized, not killed. However, zoo authorities and animal behavior experts said they decided to kill Harambe because they were not sure tranquilization would have worked – and would not have worked immediately – and might have actually enraged the animal, putting the little boy in more danger.

The blame game started – with a fair number of people on each side of the “Whose fault is it?” conversation. But now something very troubling has come to the surface: It seems that the parents of the little boy were investigated and they were to face charges for this whole unfortunate incident.

This is an African American family.

Apparently the child’s father has a “long criminal history,” with charges including burglary, drug trafficking and disorderly conduct. But as everyone knows, a Black kid can be and is arrested for “offenses” for which White kids are never approached. It is very easy for a Black person, especially a Black male, to be criminalized for non-violent offenses. More important, what does his record have to do with the accident?

The issue is bigger than the scrutiny being given to the child’s parents, especially his father. It is not unusual for kids to fall into the pens and enclosures of animals at zoos. According to one news report, “since 1990, animals died during escapes or attacks 42 times; 15 incidents of this sort have resulted in the loss of human life and 110 have resulted in human injury.”

What is troubling is not only the statistics that support the not-so-unusual occurrence of kids getting into animal pens at zoos, but also the fact that for this incident, the attacks on the parents have a distinctly racist undertone.

The mother has been called “stupid and lazy” for “letting” her child get away, and both parents have been called “irresponsible” in light of the incident, though the father was not at the zoo with the family at the time.

The attacks on the parents have been brutal and non-stop and many people want both parents to be charged with a crime. I do not recall this kind of reaction in previous incidents where kids have gotten away from their parents in a zoo setting.