Mimesis Law
27 January 2022

Mob Justice for a Dead Gorilla

June 1, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — A raging debate has apparently ensued following zookeepers’ decision to shoot to death a gorilla named Harambe after a child fell into the enclosure with him. Did the zoo go to sufficient lengths to prevent such an accident? Did the child’s parents fail to adequately supervise him? Was the gorilla trying to help, or was he a threat? Did they really have to kill him, or could a tranquilizer have worked?

The situation sucks, and people love to place blame. In fact, some people are going to be upset unless everyone suffers. To many, the only good outcome would involve charges for everyone, from the person who fired the shot to the kid’s parents and the designers of the enclosure. Why not hold Cincinnati responsible for having a zoo in the first place? People really like animals, and gorillas are charismatic megafauna, as beloved as an animal can be. Plus, they’re endangered. Harambe’s death is just the sort of thing to get a mob clamoring for authorities to do something.

Accordingly, there’s now a petition to punish the child’s parents. Angry people on the internet, not local police and prosecutors, are obviously in the best situation to determine whether charges are appropriate:

We the undersigned believe that the child would not have been able to enter the enclosure under proper parental supervision. Witnesses claim that they heard the child state that he wished to go into the enclosure and was actively trying to breach the barriers. This should have prompted the parents to immediately remove the child from the vicinity.

It’s amazing how easy it is to know what someone else should have done when you’re assessing a situation based on video and stories you’re viewing and reading on the internet from the comfort of your home. It’s truly remarkable that hundreds of thousands of people who weren’t there, didn’t interview that one witness, and probably don’t even know if there were others or what they might have seen, are willing to demand family-destroying action against someone else because of their opinions about best parenting practices.

Moreover, the petition doesn’t just showcase its supporters’ willingness to make up their mind about what happened based on scant information, but also the fact they’ll go one step further and speculate about the implications of what they’ve speculated to be true:

It is believed that the situation was caused by parental negligence and the zoo is not responsible for the child’s injuries and possible trauma. We the undersigned want the parents to be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life. We the undersigned feel the child’s safety is paramount in this situation. We believe that this negligence may be reflective of the child’s home situation. We the undersigned actively encourage an investigation of the child’s home environment in the interests of protecting the child and his siblings from further incidents of parental negligence that may result in serious bodily harm or even death. Please sign this petition to encourage the Cincinnati Zoo, Hamilton County Child Protection Services, and Cincinnati Police Department hold the parents responsible.

It would be interesting to see how many of the self-righteous people who signed the petition have children themselves. Knowing that, we could then determine whether their condemnation comes from a place of cluelessness or hypocrisy.

Every parent has had a moment where their child did something unexpected. Even the most overbearing helicopter parents at some point can’t account for precisely where their kid is and what he’s doing. Those whose children didn’t do anything to catch anyone else’s attention during those inevitable moments can pretend they’re better than everyone else. Those whose children may have gotten into some trouble can distinguish their situation. What happened with Harambe is such an extreme that it gives punishment-driven, judgmental people running the entire gamut of parenting skill the ability to act like they’re better than someone else.

If you think the petition and other calls to investigate the parents really has anything to do with helping that little boy rather than satisfying an itch for mob justice, look no further than one tabloid reporting about the boy’s father’s criminal history:

Criminal filings against [the kid’s father, whose name no self-respecting news outlet should publish,] stretch over a decade and include burglary, firearms offences, drug trafficking, criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and kidnap.

In 2006 he was sentenced to one year behind bars for a drug trafficking conviction.

But in numerous pictures posted on [his] Facebook site in recent years he appears to have turned his life around to become the proud father of four.

Indeed, the majority of his postings to the social media site are updates of his children and his working life.

In others pictures he has uploaded his friends congratulate him and [his wife] on the birth of their fourth child last January.

The sleaziest outlets arguably perform an important service in that they blatantly display the ugly root of what drives a more mainstream obsession with a topic. In this case, the fact that the father’s name and criminal history are plastered all over the place just goes to show that no one really cares about his little boy at all. How is airing his family’s dirty laundry in public going to help him?

On the bright side, that article does highlight another view of what happened as told by an eyewitness:

Deidre Lykins was also at the zoo when she saw the boy drop into the enclosure.

She described how [the boy’s mother] was calling out for her son and had just been next to him when he disappeared.

Then she had to stop her husband from going in to try and rescue him.

But she insists [the boy’s mother] is not at fault, and wrote on Facebook: ‘This mother was not negligent and the zoo did an awesome job handling the situation!

What’s fascinating is that an article can explain that someone who was right there when it happened claimed the child’s mother didn’t do anything wrong and that his father had to be stopped from jumping fifteen feet down into a moat to rescue his son from a four-hundred pound gorilla, but that the article’s focus is instead on the criminal history of that father despite his attempted bravery and the mother’s apparent lack of fault.

It’s also not hard to see there’s a racial aspect to this, as the parents are black. If reporters determined the child’s parents were upper middle class white people, it wouldn’t be surprising if their identities never came to light. Those times when we never find out anything about the parents of a child involved in something sensational despite more obvious neglect, it’s to let them process what happened, to give them their privacy. Maybe that isn’t so important to the media when they’re black.

If anything, the press’s disturbing focus on the boy’s parents and the mob’s thirst for them to suffer some sort of consequences makes police and prosecutors look pretty good in all of this. Although an upcoming meeting may be cause for concern, they’ve thus far avoided scoring easy points at the expense of an easy target. This time, their unwillingness to give in to the mob and file charges is a good thing.

7 Comments on this post.

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  • Richard G. Kopf
    1 June 2016 at 11:28 am - Reply


    Would I be a brute if asked what caliber of weapon provided Justice for Harambe? All the best.


    • Matt Brown
      1 June 2016 at 11:41 am - Reply

      I was actually wondering about that. I hear the biggest thing they have at the Phoenix Zoo is a .30-06 with 100-something-grain rounds. I’d worry that might just piss off a huge gorilla.

      • Richard G. Kopf
        1 June 2016 at 12:25 pm - Reply


        Like my hero “Dirty Harry,” I should think that the Smith & Wesson Model 29 handgun chambered for the .44 Magnum cartridge and using hollow points would have done the trick. All the best.


        • Josephine
          1 June 2016 at 12:50 pm - Reply

          As pleased as I am to hear from Dirty-Harry-positive members of the federal judiciary, I would note that the idea of anyone using a handgun to shoot at a gorilla, or anything, for that matter, that’s anywhere near my child terrifies me.

  • Anonymous
    1 June 2016 at 11:40 am - Reply

    Maybe the lesson in all this is that we shouldn’t be keeping these magnificent creatures in captivity in the first place.

  • Equal Justice For Roseanna Kiser
    10 June 2016 at 1:18 pm - Reply

    […] time for equal justice under the law.  If we’re the sort to start an online petition calling for the heads of parents whose child fell into a gorilla enclosure, we can certainly do it […]

  • Lots And Lots Of Blog Posts… | Tempe Criminal Defense
    14 September 2016 at 10:26 am - Reply