Despite a petition circulated by animal rights’ activists, the Black mother whose 3-year-old son climbed into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden on May 28 will not face charges.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced in a press conference yesterday (June 6) that he would not pursue charges, saying that the child’s mother did not neglect or endanger her child. NPR reports that Deters said the woman “did not act in any way where she presented this child to some harm.” He also said that Hamilton County Jobs and Family Services investigated the family’s home and social workers were “ very impressed.”
Deters went on to use what some view as racially-charged language: “In terms of the mother,” he said, “had she been in the bathroom smoking crack and let her kids run around the zoo, that’d be a different story. But that’s not what was happening here. She was being attentive to her children by all witness accounts, and the 3 year old just scampered off.”
As commenter Ronald Slater wrote on The Raw Story’s post of the press conference video: “WTF! Dude just say she won’t be charged. Don’t add unnecessary comments that are racist in context.”
It’s not the first time race has entered this conversation. From discussions about how animal lives seem to be valued more than Black ones to articles that inexplicably explored the criminal background of the child’s father, it has been present since the world discovered the family is Black.
While he didn’t address the racial component of the uproar over the decision to kill the gorilla to save the child, Deters did say that he was surprised to hear that some people thought Harambe’s life was more important. “The zoo lost a beautiful animal, and one that many people in this area have enjoyed watching for a long time, but it’s still an animal.”
The gorilla exhibit reopened today (June 7). The zoo reports that it has a new 42”-high barrier made with solid wood beans and knotted rope netting. The previous fence was 3 feet tall with large openings. Deter said he is happy about the change.
Watch the full press conference below.