What about Harambe?
By Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq
Trice Edney News Wire
Since his shooting at the Cincinnati Zoo on May 28, the death of Harambe, a 17-year-old male, western lowland silverback gorilla, has created a firestorm of controversy in contemporary “culture wars.” There has been considerable second-guessing and “Monday morning quarterbacking” concerning the decision to shoot the animal and, even worse, there has been unreasonable vilification of the parents of the 3-year-old human, African-American male, who found his way past a barricade and fell 15 feet into a moat surrounding the zoo’s “Gorilla World” enclosure.
Reacting to the child in his enclosure, Harambe jumped into the moat and took the child under his control. Although his treatment of the child may have been similar to the treatment given a baby gorilla, the force he used was excessive for the child. Some surmise that the screams of concern from onlookers agitated Harambe, who began to handle the boy more roughly. Whatever the cause, zoo officials determined that the gorilla’s state of agitation posed a threat to the life of the child and ordered Harambe to be shot.
Zoo Director, Thane Maynard, stated that it was determined that the gorilla posed a threat to the child and that the only alternative was to kill him. Noted zoo keeper, Jack Hanna, agreed with Maynard who, after reflection, said he would make the same decision again if necessary.
In my mind, there is no greater value than a full and complete respect and appreciation for the sanctity and significance of life. In the most ideal situation, every living being would be afforded the respect commonly given for her, his or its position in the ecosphere. Unfortunately, this type of Utopia does not exist and we are often faced with making unpleasant decisions that are speculative, but have an immediate impact on life.
I have supported animal rights all of my life–but never at the expense of human life, and definitely not where a baby’s life was threatened. I, like many others, initially had mixed emotions about the decision to kill Harambe, but I have trouble with the negative ‘fallout’ being rained upon the zoo because a gorilla was killed. Instead, I applaud the fact that the baby’s life was saved.
I condemn those who sanctimoniously argue for the protection of animals, yet ignore oppressive conditions imposed upon their human neighbors. I wonder how many of those who protest Harambe’s ‘murder’ number among those who will walk down a street and give a stray animal the most pleasant greeting while casting the glaze of disdain upon another human because of race, ethnicity, religion or some other characteristic.
Some still argue that Harambe could have been tranquilized as an option. Why is that same option not called for when police shoot human beings without cause. I missed 300,000 animal rights, or any other groups’, signatures for the deaths of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin or for the deaths of the other young Black women and men who’ve died needlessly when an option truly was available.
Some will say that I have added an unreasonable “racial” component to this discussion, but, I ask, under the same circumstances, in what universe would White parents be vilified for not controlling their child? Where would it be argued for a White mother to be criminally prosecuted? Although he had turned his life around, when would a White father, who was not even at the zoo, have his entire criminal past made public (and how does it relate to the incident at hand)?
Where is the compassion for human life when the subject is Black? I sadly conclude that our country is so filled with hate that one must pass a litmus test of Whiteness for a life to matter.
Dr. E. Faye Williams is National President of the National Congress of Black Women. 202-678-6788. www.nationalcongressbw.org