In case you have been living under a rock and emerged blinking into the newborn dawn to find Hillary Clinton the presumptive Democratic nominee, let me tell you about the story that briefly distracted this great nation from the drama of a hotly contested primary season.
You see, there was this kid, a 3 year old on a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo with his Mom and other siblings. While his mother, Michelle Gregg, was momentarily distracted, precocious little Isaiah scampered over the barriers at the zoo’s Gorilla World exhibit and fell into the canyon that separates the zoo’s lowland gorillas from the public. There he was met by Harambe, a 17 year old male silverback gorilla. Harambe was seen by witnesses to be dragging the boy violently, and about ten minutes after the child had entered the enclosure, zoo officials decided that Isaiah’s life was at risk. Tranquilizers were ruled out because they would take too long and possibly cause the 450 lb gorilla to react violently. Harambe was shot by a zoo employee, almost instantly killing him. He was two days past his 17th birthday. Thankfully, young Isaiah suffered only minor injuries and was released from the hospital that evening. A tragedy for the zoo, but a tragedy averted for the Gregg family.
Then the Internet got a a hold of the story and everyone LOST THEIR GOD DAMNED MINDS!!!!
They expressed their displeasure in many ways, on Twitter, on Facebook, and of course they used memes. Memes like this one that Steph used in her post from earlier this week.
Not sure why they killed me, i was doing a better job watching that ladies kid than she was
Now our fearless leader and benevolent dictator Rebecca already posted an excellent breakdown of this nonsensical line of “thinking” over at Skepchick . For instance…
For those who think the zoo was wrong to kill the gorilla because he was actually protecting the kid, jesus fucking christ, get your shit together and realize we’re not living in a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper. I’m pretty sure the people who work with these animals every single day know better than you about what they’re capable of. Stop projecting your own thoughts and feeling onto animals you have no clue about. The gorilla may not have meant to harm the kid but he was dragging him around by the foot, and he was clearly disoriented by the crowd of people screaming at him. This isn’t Curious George, for fuck’s sake.
The views expressed by our newest and bestest Twitter friend @andiiamwhoiam are not uncommon at all. There was a quick rush to condemn the mother in this case for negligence.
Rest in Peace Harambe. Now arrest the mother and put her kids in state custody. She is unfit to parent.
Unfit to parent. Take her kids away. And that’s not the worst I saw. I saw people calling for this woman to be charged with murder. I saw people who thought that they should have let nature take its course, who actually proposed that the young gorilla’s life was more valuable than some dumbass kid.
Did we mention Michelle and Isaiah are black? Did we really have to?
Speaking of which…
Ok, this one is more tasteless than wrong. But it brings into focus a good point. Michelle Gregg’s race has been a part of this story since the beginning. The way people rushed to judgement of her parenting skills, the way she was assumed to be negligent in a way we would have never characterized a white mother. Heck, even the statement made by Hamilton County prosecutor and major league asshole Joseph “Buzz” Deters when he announced that no charges would be brought against her was just awful and racist…
The mother, from everything he said he learned about the situation, was not careless, reckless or neglectful.
“For instance, had she been in a bathroom smoking crack and let her kids run around the zoo, that’d be a different story,” Deters said. “But, that’s not what was happening here.”
In fact the investigation found that Michelle was actually being quite attentive to her children, young Isaiah just scampered off. Because kids do that. Eyewitnesses who saw the kid doing his scampering described it thusly…
Brittany Nicely of Dayton was visiting the zoo with her two children and four other children on Saturday. They were at Gorilla World when the incident took place.
“Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the little boy in the bushes past the little fence area. I tried to grab for him. I started yelling at him to come back,” Nicely said.
“Everybody started screaming and going crazy,” she said. “It happened so fast.”
The storyline of a negligent mother is an easy one for our society to accept because we are a society still deep in the thralls of institutional racism, sexism and classism. It is a storyline that ignores some pretty simple facts. Not just the eyewitness testimony and the investigation by authorities, but that Michelle Gregg is herself the administrator at a preschool! She is quite literally more qualified than almost all of her detractors to supervise young children. She has a fucking licence to do so. Of course her employer has had their Facebook page overwhelmed with angry messages and threats. Because people are fucking awful.
I held off writing about this one because it hits really close to home and I wanted to make sure all the facts are in. The Cincinnati Zoo is MY zoo. I’ve been going there for 47 years. I’ve been a member there as long as I could afford it. I remember when the Gorilla World exhibit opened. It was revolutionary at the time, moving our family of lowland gorillas from sterile and depressing cages into an outdoor exhibit that was much more like their natural habitat. The Cincinnati Zoo is the second oldest zoological gardens in the country (Philadelphia is first, but only by a little.) The Reptile House is the oldest continuously functioning zoo building in the country. They have been at the forefront of research into preserving these creatures and many others for longer than most of the people criticizing them have been alive. Personally I have very little sympathy for all these people who suddenly become outraged experts whenever something like this happens, whether it’s the outrage over Cecil the Lion being hunted by a rich American (not all undeserved) or the furor over the euthanization of Marius the giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo, I see people who probably can’t be bothered to spay and neuter their pets suddenly become Marlin Perkins, host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom overnight.
Accidents happen and there isn’t always an easy solution nor an easy way to apportion blame. Mothers, especially mothers who deal with extra intersections of oppression like race and class, are a convenient scapegoat when things go wrong and a child is involved. This was an accident, a confluence of events that only looks avoidable in hindsight.
The Zoo reopened the Gorilla World display yesterday after renovations to hopefully prevent another tragedy. We love our Zoo, we love the gorillas who are our guests there. If you’re ever in town look me up and I’d be happy to show you around.
Featured Image Credit: Blotz Photo Arts