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When an animal’s welfare outweighs human life

Zoo officials have benefited from the little boy and his mother’s race

Almost 25 years have passed, and I still don’t understand how it happened. A close friend had walked into her kitchen in Cincinnati and left me sitting in another room with her daughter, who slept strapped into a baby stroller.

The little girl had been born premature, about the size of an adult’s hand. She hadn’t been home long. She was so small and precious.

During the baby’s time in the neonatal unit, my friend suffered a repetitive motion injury after reaching into her daughter’s incubator, day after day. My friend’s touches were her way of telling her daughter she was there and loved her, always.

I don’t remember what my friend was doing in her kitchen. I rested on her sofa. Perhaps I was reading the newspaper or listening to some music. The baby began to cry. I looked into the kitchen. The baby began to cry harder. I looked at the stroller. Her stroller rocked. I looked away.

And then the baby slipped out of her stroller and fell on the floor with the sound of a large egg cracking. It all happened in about 30 seconds.

My friend tore out of her kitchen, scooped up her daughter and rushed to a hospital emergency room. Her child survived. And so did what’s now a 44-year friendship.

Today, the daughter, sweet and gentle, just got her master’s degree from a college in England. She hopes to work in Africa. But her fall as a baby could have killed her. She was so fragile. We were lucky, my friend, her tiny baby and me.

A few days ago, another Cincinnati mother was lucky, too. Apparently, her toddler son got over a barrier and tumbled into a gorilla enclosure at the city zoo.

During the child’s time in the midst of the gorillas, a male 450-pound gorilla named Harambe dragged the child through the water as if, as one witness put it, the child were a rag doll.

Fearing the worse, zoo officials shot and killed Harambe and rescued the little boy. He was lucky. And so were zoo officials. Had the boy been killed, it’s likely they would have faced a major lawsuit. At this point, the parents don’t intend to sue. They thank God and the actions of zoo officials for their son’s safety. They asked that donations be sent to the zoo in the dead gorilla’s name. The zoo is supposed to reopen next week with a higher barrier between people and gorillas.

Sad to say, zoo officials have benefited from the little boy and his mother being African-Americans. Instead of having to focus on explaining how it was possible for the child to fall among the gorillas — which I think would have been the case with a white mother and child — they’ve had to explain why they felt they had to shoot Harambe rather than tranquilize the Western lowlands silverback gorilla, a dwindling and endangered species. The gorilla has been described as gentle. The child is OK, according to the family.

Meanwhile, social media mobs have scorned the boy’s parents for their supposed negligence, even though the father, an ex-offender turned family man and worker, was not at the scene. Local police are investigating the parents and the events that occurred before what looks like a scary incident.

Whatever the police determine, honest parents know that no matter how careful and watchful they are, their children can still fall into harm’s way in an instant. Consequently, unless new and damning information emerges about her behavior, berating the Cincinnati mother is mean-spirited and uninformed.

Much of the stark hostility to the mother and her child comes from the same reservoir of hate that washes over black families who lose their unarmed children to police shootings, the same reservoir of hate that seeks to drown out the voices of Black Lives Matter, a movement that seeks to combat anti-black racism.

When I was a child, my cousin Billy used to shout, “Lawd. Lawd.” in reaction to the cruelty and stupidity in the world.

In the aftermath of Cincinnati incident, some in social media assailed the rescued little boy, his mother and father. Some who imagine themselves witty, aver: “Gorillas’ Lives Matter.”

Lawd. Lawd.

A graduate of Hampton University, Jeff Rivers worked for Ebony, HBO and three daily newspapers, winning multiple awards for his columns. Jeff and his wife live in New Jersey and have two children, a son Marc and a daughter Lauren.