Classic Salon: Liberal Publication Laments 'Limits of White Compassion' Over Gorilla Shooting

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Jun 07, 2016 8:00 AM
Classic Salon: Liberal Publication Laments 'Limits of White Compassion' Over Gorilla Shooting

After days of media coverage centering on the Cincinnati Zoo’s decision to shoot and kill a gorilla after a three-year old boy got into the enclosure, we now know that the boy’s mother won’t be facing criminal charges (via WaPo):

“If anyone does not believe a 3-year-old can scamper off very quickly, they’ve never had kids,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters said at a news conference Monday. “Because they can and they do.”

The boy crawled through a barrier at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden and fell into the outdoor gorilla center on May 28. After he dropped into the exhibit, a 17-year-old male gorilla named Harambe picked up and dragged the child, zoo director Thane Maynard later told reporters.

Officials tasked with handling the situation determined that the child’s life was in danger, and they fatally shot the animal

Yet, what followed was a rather silly debate over whether Harambe should’ve been killed by zoo officials. A rather irrational outpouring of grief and anger followed Harambe’s death. CNN noted he’s the successor to Cecil the Lion who was hunted, flayed, and decapitated by Walter Palmer. He became the devil personified to many animal lovers. In short, the news network said a combination of social media, mob mentality, our need to protect, and how we tend to anthropomorphize nature can lead to rather interesting results. Yet, nothing compares Salon’s take on the matter, where the lefty publication said that the killing of a gorilla showed the “limits of white compassion,” given the string of police shootings against those in the black community. In essence, they were asking where is the compassion for those people. This is classic Salon, somehow finding a racial angle to an incident where race isn’t even part of the real conversation:

At the moment, the general public is demonstrating more compassion toward a gorilla than toward Black people who were (are!) gunned down by police at an alarming rate in this country. Harambe is mourned more (com)passionately than the Black humans with whom gorillas have historically and degradingly been compared. Harambe’s death by shooting—an isolated, logical decision—is, apparently, less acceptable than the systemized, institutionally-protected and -reinforced deaths of Samuel DuBose and Paul Gaston by bullets, just the same. When Black people are killed by cops, whether in Cincinnati or anywhere else in the U.S., it is “what’s supposed to happen,” and so: no outrage. When a gorilla, due to a random, unforeseen event, is killed by zookeepers, hearts bleed. How can we be so misguidedly selective about the bodies we invest compassion in?

Luckily, compassion is a limitless resource. We don’t have to choose between loving people and loving non-human animals, between demanding some meaningful outcome of Harambe’s death and demanding a full renovation of our supposed justice system. The reason that more compassion is being shown toward Harambe than toward Black people—those named above and multitudinous others—is simply that while Americans are encouraged from infancy to love and honor animals, we are taught from that same early age, regardless of our race, that Black people are something less than human. Apparently, maybe something even less than animal.

In the portraits of Harambe that surface on my Timeline, I appreciate the majesty of his body, a body not so distantly related to any human, Black or otherwise—and a body that can never live again. Unlike compassion, living is not limitless; as humans, we have the unique ability and responsibility to shape the lives of the animals we have placed ourselves over, as well as the ability and responsibility to shape our institutions, norms and cultural assumptions. Our own violences. Should Harambe have been killed? Should the Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla exhibit have had a secondary enclosure? Should the United States have had more fatal police shootings in the first 24 days of 2015 than England and Wales combined have had in the last 24 years? Should a young Black man be 21 times more likely to be one of those slain than a young White one?

All of these questions are ours as Americans, with a particular onus on White Americans. Compassion is an investible form of power, and can be, as we see with various campaigns around Harambe’s death, a tool of inquiry and an agent of social change. To whatever possible end, folks have chosen to invest in Harambe—and the more we practice investing, the more potent and capacious our collective compassion becomes.

Is this parody? If so, it’s incredibly forced. If not, then but’s still forced, but painfully tragicomic. We’re going to try and make a racial commentary out of the matter? Are you kidding me? Second, I must’ve missed the class where I was taught that black people were less than animals. My white adoptive (and loving) parents surely didn’t teach me that either. It’s just lunacy.

Getting back to the real world—I guess there could be a discussion (if you’re an animal lover), as to why the zoo didn’t tranquilize Harambe instead of killing him. As it turns out, tranquilizers aren’t a sure thing, especially when it comes to a 400-pound. It takes time for the sedatives to take hold, and the initial shot could make the animal more aggressive. In this case, Cincinnati Zoo officials said that at least 10 minutes would’ve been necessary to put Harambe to sleep. In the video, he’s seen dragging the boy, even tossing him against the wall. The danger was just too great (via Business Insider):

…[Z]oo officials say that would only have made the situation worse. The tranquilizer could have taken up to 10 minutes to work, they said. During that time, the boy would be put in even more danger.

Harambe was "clearly disoriented" and "acting erratically," Cincinnati Zoo director Thane Maynard said Monday at a news conference. While the rest of the gorillas in the enclosure cleared the area after the 4-year-old's fall thanks to special calls made by zookeepers, Harambe did not respond.

A tranquilizer, Maynard said, could have taken up to 10 minutes to take effect, and the pain from the dart would have caused more panic in the animal.

"You can't take a risk with a silverback gorilla," Maynard said. "We're talking about animal that with one hand can take a coconut and crush it."

In 2011, Terry Thompson apparently had a mental episode when he let loose a variety of wild and exotic animals in Zanesville, Ohio. He later committed suicide by shooting himself not long after he let his animals lose on the general public. Tranquilizers were also utilized initially, but scrapped when the animals became more aggressive. Law enforcement spent all night tracking the animals and killing before they could harm innocent people.

Now, we have a debate as to whether gorillas should even be held in captivity. Does that have to deal with what happened? Yes, but saying that race has to do with the outpouring of emotion over Harambe’s shooting is surely not part of this conversation. He was a gorilla, not an extension of the Black Lives Matter movement. Stop trying to turn him into one. Some on the left tried to make a this gorilla shooting another example of how racist this country is (which isn’t true), but hilarity ensued instead.