The underlying issues surrounding the Cincinnati Zoo Incident

Anupriya Jacob, Managing Editor

Harambe: beloved gorilla, endangered animal and most recently heroic meme. On May 28, just a day after his 17th birthday, Harambe was killed by zoo officials after a three-year-old boy visiting the Cincinnati Zoo fell into the protective barrier at the Gorilla World Habitat.

The news of this incident prompted much discussion immediately following the tragedy. But over the summer, the story went viral with the help of various memes that surfaced the internet depicting Harambe as a martyr. This trend continued into the school year with growing popularity nationwide, especially on the popular social networking site, Twitter. Although these jokes may seem innocent, they distract from the gravity of the incident itself.

“I think [the meme] is a little hypocritical because [Harambe] was a living being that actually died,” senior Ava Sharifi said. “If it was a dog, then people would be losing it, but it was an endangered gorilla, which arguably makes it a bigger deal.”

Along with the ethics surrounding the meme associated with Harambe’s death, there was a slew of hateful comments directed toward the little boy’s parents for their inability to prevent him from landing into the habitat. According to CNN, many voiced that the little boy’s mother was not “being a good mother” and that both parents should even be “held criminally responsible.”

The basis of these accusations was called into question as the parents of the little boy are African American. Unfortunately, these critiques enforce the stereotype that African American mothers have numerous unruly children that cannot be controlled. This stereotype is extremely hurtful, as it paints black mothers as negligent and irresponsible.

While the internet continues to poke fun at this tragic incident, it highlights the stark contrast between how African American and Caucasian parents can be depicted in the media. For example, according to The Washington Post, a young Caucasian boy fell into a cheetah pit after being dangled on the fence by his mother in 2015. Fortunately, the cheetahs, whose population is dwindling, did not engage with the young boy, but the zoo charged the mother for child endangerment. Although she was found guilty of negligence, there was no backlash from the media and barely any coverage over the event as a whole. As for the Cincinnati Zoo incident, the opposite occurred. This tragedy brought national coverage and countless insults toward the boy’s parents, even though numerous witnesses noted that the little boy’s mother was keeping a vigilant eye over him.

Due to the media’s discourse and failure to empathize with those affected, the Cincinnati Zoo incident received an unnecessary amount of attention.

“We like to distance ourselves from the tragedy by saying that ‘we would not have done that,’ and [have in turn] morphed that into kind of demonizing the person who was affected [by] saying they are a bad person,” speech and debate teacher Barbara Clougherty said. “The internet tends to sensationalize, marginalize [and] dichotomize every situation, because it simplifies [the situation] and makes us feel good.”

Although the discussions produced from these type of incidents are important to critically think about, we must also empathize with those immediately affected by them.

“It was a terrible incident where a kid could have died, and an animal did die, so I think it was awful on all accounts,” social studies teacher Matt Miles said. “I don’t think there has to be a pro or a con side, [and] I don’t think everything has to be so polarized.”

Even months after the wake of this event, we should honor those involved. We can mourn for the death of the beloved gorilla while comprehending the many facets that led to the incident even occurring in the first place. Harambe might be remembered best through the creation of many memes, but it is crucial that we never forget the underlying issues associated with his death.