The instant that a Cincinnati zoo keeper gunned down the silver-backed gorilla, Harambe to save the life of the four-year-old toddler who wandered into his enclosure, the predictable happened. Tens of thousands raged at Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard for defending the killing of the gorilla. And just as predictably, more than a few asked why there isn't the same rage and passion over the gunning down of unarmed blacks by police.
It's not the first time the question has been asked and that some see a blatant double standard in people getting in a white hot lather over the killing of an animal, but won't bat an eye of concern over the killing almost under any circumstances of a human, especially an African-American.
There are many answers to the why of this. There are a lot of pet owners out there, and polls and surveys have found that the overwhelming majority of them regard their pets, not as animals, but as bonafide family members to be loved and cared for with the same, if not more, feeling, tenderness, and importantly, emotional attachment, and need to protect, as if they were a human.
Newspaper editors repeatedly say that a story about the abuse of an animal will get tons of angry letters and demands for punishment of the abuser. There's also the oft cited cases of cops gunning down a suspect, unarmed and under dubious circumstances, that stir no outrage. Yet, if the same cop shoots an animal, even one that could pose a real threat to the officer, the howls of protest are often loud and long. Researchers have tested the notion that people will get more worked up over the death or abuse of a pet than a human being. To no surprise, they found that in almost all cases that animals that are abused rank at the top of the pecking order in generating an emotional response. One study even asked if a person had a choice of snatching a dog or a person from out in front of a run-away bus, which one would they rush to save first. If the person wasn't a friend or a loved one, the dog won out.
NFL quarter back Michael Vick found out the hard and brutal way the torment that people feel over animals. Even after his conviction, jailing, losing millions from being booted out of the NFL for a time, and his endless public mea culpas for his crime, it didn't matter to many. They still relentlessly hectored, harangued, and vilified him after his return to the NFL. The fact that Vick was black undoubtedly made him a soft and inviting target for prolonged condemnation, and it was said that if he had been a white quarterback, he would have gotten a pass. Vick's color may have mattered to more than a few, and they went after him with a special vengeance because of that. Yet. even if he had been white, he would still have been hammered ruthlessly by animal rights groups and pet lovers everywhere
The director of the Cincinnati zoo was not Vick, and not black, but he still got a hefty dose of the Vick treatment from legions of outraged persons when he defended the killing of Harambe. The issue for them was not whether the killing was plausible, defensible, and justified to save a life, but simply that a beloved animal was killed. The bet is that if there was something called Gorilla Lives Matter, countless numbers would do something that they would never dream of doing with Black Lives Matter, and that's join it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is How "President" Trump will Govern (Amazon Kindle) He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.