The 450 Pound Gorilla in the Room
I don’t generally write articles regarding the local goings-on of Cincinnati, Ohio. In fact, other than the occasional Herb Tarlick or Johnny Fever reference, I try to avoid mentioning anything in Cincy whatsoever, but the national news has been abuzz recently with the tragic circumstances that occurred when a four year old boy somehow fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, resulting in zoo officials making the decision to lethally shoot Harambe, the 17 year old gorilla that suddenly found himself face-to-face with an unexpected human child. What has fueled the national interest in this story is everyone racing around to find exactly who is to blame. Everyone seems to want to point their finger at some participant in this unfortunate drama and then wave it disparagingly with the superior air of holier than thou moral judgment. And we all know what happens when the train of internet mob justice gets a rollin’. The problem with internet justice, however, is that it often uses 20/20 hindsight judgment to cast aspersions when perhaps there is less blame to go around than it might initially appear when viewed through the dubious lens of trying to find someone to hold accountable.
Some folks want to point straight at Cincinnati Zoo officials. Many of these people suggest that the safeguards segregating the gorilla from public onlookers were inadequate. Fact is, however, that this is the first time anyone has gotten through the barrier of the zoo’s Gorilla World exhibit since it opened in 1978. Zoos are in a precarious situation in this regard. People want to view animals in what feels like a natural environment, not through layers of plated glass or jail bars. Zoos construct barriers between the audience and the animals for our safety, and they put up signs to remind us that the gates, fences and moats are there for our protection- that these are, after all, wild animals. Still, they cannot account for people, especially young children, who will ignore the warnings and do whatever they can to get closer to the animals. Like a thief who wants to break into your house, you can put up whatever locks and alarms you like to deter them from breaking into your home, but if someone wants to get in badly enough, they will somehow find a way. Save for a glass cage that would have adversely impacted patrons’ viewing experience, what could the zoo have legitimately done to make the enclosure utterly impervious to a child who was apparently determined to get in?
Still others would blame the zoo for making the decision to shoot Harambe when the gorilla had yet to harm the child in the nearly ten minutes the 4 year old had been in his presence. That said, what would people have been shouting if the gorilla had suddenly snapped and dashed the kid’s brains out on a rock? Some animal experts suggest that the gorilla was acting protectively towards the child, pointing out that the two actually shared a tender moment of holding hands before the gorilla dragged him to safety out of the water. Still, those same experts also acknowledged that Harambe displayed signs of surprise and concern at his unexpected visitor and that this led the animal to act erratically. Let’s remember that this is a wild animal whose behavior, especially in unconventional circumstances, is not entirely predictable. This is an animal who can crush a coconut in his bare hands with an unknown entity in his environment. Anyone claiming they could precisely determine what he would do next is, please excuse the pun, bananas. Left with the possibility of a child fatality on their hands, the zoo had to make an instantaneous decision to put down the gorilla in order to protect the life of the child.
Finally, there are those that would blame the child’s mother, Michelle Gregg, for failing to properly supervise her child. Hundreds of thousands of people have signed an online petition calling for the criminal prosecution of Gregg, and the vicious online attacks of her parenting have caused her to take down her Facebook profile amidst a sea of verbal criticism. I get it- she should have been watching her kid. But have you ever cared for more than one young child at a time as Gregg was doing at the time of the incident in question? Kids are not like plants. They get up and move. They get distracted by something, like oh say a gorilla, and wander off in that direction. While tending to one child, we have all had our attention diverted from another child under our supervision, and it only takes a moment. Fortunately for the rest of us, our child did not wander into a gorilla exhibit in the moment that our attention was diverted. Deirdre Lykins, a fellow mother, was standing next to Michelle Gregg when the child wandered off towards the gorilla enclosure and defended her vehemently on Facebook, saying unequivocally, “This mother was not negligent.” I guess it takes a fellow parent to truly empathize with Gregg’s position.
In the end, of course, it is Harambe, the only party to this unfortunate incident that was entirely guilt-free, that had to pay the ultimate price. But in our rush to assuage our grief at his passing, do we have to find someone to blame? Sometimes in this world, tragic events just happen. There is no rhyme or reason to their occurrence, and there is no one person to blame. Public outrage is easy to dish out when sitting there at your computer screen, and the lynch mob of internet justice is often only satiated when it finds a target for castigation, but sometimes we just need to accept that bad stuff happens, that life is not always perfect, and move on without finding a scapegoat for the tragedy. That, my friends, is the humane thing to do.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every TUESDAY and FRIDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com