"Shoot the Parents" and Other Insane Responses To the Killing of a Gorilla

The death of a gorilla was a tragedy. The response to it from the online mob is a travesty.
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The death of a gorilla was a tragedy. The response to it from the online mob is a travesty.

If you've been anywhere near the internet over the past 48 hours you've almost certainly heard about it: On Saturday at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, a special response team was, it says, forced to kill a 17-year-old, male, western lowland gorilla after a four-year-old boy fell into its enclosure. The video of the incident has been pretty much everywhere, with images of the gorilla dragging the child around like a rag doll washing over every corner of the web. Likewise, the outrage over the gorilla's death has reverberated across social media like a clarion call, with both animal lovers and even casual observers wondering aloud whether it was really necessary for the gorilla -- whose name was Harambe -- to be shot and killed. The zoo has expressed heartbreak over the death, but says it had no choice given that tranquilizers would have taken too long to take effect and less-than-lethal options may have only further enraged the gorilla. A child's life was at stake -- a life inarguably worth more than that of a gorilla's -- ergo a difficult judgment call had to be made. And made it was. 

Among those rightfully mourning Harambe and questioning the details of what led to this undeniable tragedy, there's been one pretty consistent through-line and that's the target of their considerable fury: the parents of the little boy. We've learned almost nothing about them. All we know so far is that a woman can be heard on the video of the incident shouting, "Mommy's right here! Mommy loves you!" and "Isaiah be calm!" Other than that, no information has been released on the mother or the child. And that's almost certainly for their own safety. Because head to just about any social media posting about the gorilla shooting, any comment section under a report on it, or really anywhere everyday people are allowed a say and you'll find a relentless stream of vitriol aimed at these parents, up to and including -- predictably, because this is the internet we're talking about -- calls for their deaths. We don't yet have all the facts in about this incident, but that's of course not stopping some from jumping to the conclusion that it's all the parents' fault for losing control of their awful kid.

I've been writing online for ten years this month and I have to say that I've never seen anything quite like the response to this. I've never seen so many average people who are suddenly both experts in primate behavior -- since it's obvious that Harambe was merely trying to protect the child as he dragged the boy through a moat -- and clairvoyant enough to have direct knowledge of the facts of what actually happened, despite not all of them being available to the public. It's of course entirely possible that what you had here was a distracted "mommy" blithely dawdling on her iPhone while her child slipped away from her unnoticed due to her own negligence and she should face the music for not only risking the life of her son but for getting a gorilla killed. It's of course equally possible that it took that child a good long time to crawl through a protective barrier around the gorilla paddock and fall 12 feet into the vicinity of Harambe, meaning the "mommy" was anything but vigilant and conscientious and deserves most of the blame here. But these are things we just don't know for sure right now.

And yet -- when it comes to our favorite pastime of pointing-the-finger, responses to this tragedy range from cries of "the parents should have been the ones shot," to, "another innocent beautiful animal has been... killed as a result of awful parenting," to, "kids are a dime a dozen, there's millions of them, he'd be one less moron in the gene pool, the gorillas are the endangered species here not brats," to "open season with $1000 a bounty on those too stupid to live!" to "it's the stupid cunt who didn't notice her child wasn't there," to, delightfully, "eugenics comes to mind." An undulating online army of angry idiots, righteous in their absolute moral authority and bolstered by the warmth of all those Facebook likes and shares, raining fire down on a person or people they know literally nothing at all about involved in a situation about which they simply don't have all the facts yet. It's depressing, though not at all surprising. It's far easier to just assume that the parents of this child weren't paying a lick of attention and the gorilla who wound up dead is infinitely more majestic than them -- worthless humans -- than it is to wait for details or express an opinion with even the tiniest bit of careful nuance.

Again, is it possible the mother of the child who fell into Harambe's habitat on Saturday was thoroughly irresponsible and that's what set this unfortunate incident into motion? Hell, not only is it possible, it's pretty likely. But before we decide that a couple of people -- or one person, since we don't even know if both parents were there at the time -- need to be put up against a wall behind the Hague, shouldn't we determine, you know, what actually happened? And before anyone says what so many are saying: "Yeah, but a good parent never loses track of her kid!!" well, bullshit. It's one thing to forget or not realize your child is in a carseat literally two feet behind you and lock him in an oven for eight hours; it's another thing entirely to take a four-year-old to the chaos of a busy zoo on a Saturday and have him scamper off while you're overloaded, leaving you turning in circles for a moment trying to find him (potentially, enough time for him to crawl past an animal enclosure). We don't know if the parents had other children they were dealing with. We don't know how long the child was out of their sight. We hardly know a damn thing, and yet so many are willing to sanctimoniously pass judgment and decide punishment. 

Now, we can have the debate over whether shooting and killing the gorilla was the only option for the Cincinnati Zoo. (Although it should be noted that both Jack Hanna and Ron Magill believe the gorilla would have killed the boy and that the zoo absolutely made the right call.) We can, and should, also have the debate over how the hell a four-year-old was able to push through a protective barrier surrounding an exhibit with potentially dangerous animals inside. We can even, yes, ask very tough questions about the role the parents played in all of this. But what we can't do right now, not if we're sane people and not proudly sociopathic, is scream that it was all the parents' fault and they should be murdered in their sleep. I get that this won't be a popular opinion because it's not a furious demand for heads on a pike immediately, but what's say we wait until at least a few more of the facts are in before we decide definitively who's to blame here? It's tragic that this magnificent animal was killed and there should be a thorough investigation into what went wrong and why. And at the end of that investigation, blame should be laid and adequate punishment meted out. If the parents of the child were negligent, then they should pay dearly. If the zoo's security was lax (in the case of the barriers) or too harsh (in the case of shooting the gorilla, ) then it should fall on its sword.   

But until we know the answers to a hell of a lot more questions, screaming for blood is exactly what it sounds like: the frenzied lunacy of an angry, stupid mob.

This article has been updated with new information.