Our Hearts Bleed, But Can’t Deny Media, Public Much More Lenient of Family in Alligator Death, Than Gorilla Incident

Melissa Graves and her son, Matt.
Melissa Graves and her son, Matt.

*Hell! I guess this makes me “devil’s advocate,” but I doubt the offer to speak on this landed in my lap accidentally. I speak for many when I say sincerely that our hearts continue to ache over the senseless death of little Lane Graves, 2, who drowned as a result of being attacked by an alligator as he sat playing in his playpen near the water at Disney’s Seven Seas Lagoon in Orlando. His precious little life had merely begun before it was snatched away and our world is all the worse for it.

After all, many of us are still having overactive heart palpitations over the near-death experience of little Isaiah Dickerson, 3, who, only last month, fell into the pit where a gorilla named “Harambe” lived at the Cincinnati Zoo.

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Isaiah and his dad, Deonne Dickerson.

Onlookers watched in horror as the beast at one point seemed to be undecided about what to do with the little “one of them” who appeared in pictures in the initial stages of the drama to look up at his hugeness, with his little hands touching the beasts arms, before it took the kid and dragged him through the water like a rag-doll.

The public was outraged when ultimately, the beast had to be killed to spare the life of the child.

But before we go forward, let me say this. Final results notwithstanding, the “pink elephant in the room” shows the only differences between these two precious human lives was race. The bigger difference was reactions from the media and an angry public.

From where I sit, we can’t even begin to open up a conversation on healing, if we don’t admit to the racist implications of these responses to similar incidents…out loud.

After Isaiah’s horrifying experience, social media took its claws out and went buck-wild in defense of the animal and in attack of the African American child’s mother. And if one didn’t know better, after reading some of the hate she got from the posts of these anonymous people, you would think this mother had thrown her son into the pit; instead of having turned her back momentarily to deal with her other three kids.

Even respected animal specialist, Jack Hanna, said the gorilla had to die!

gorilla with child

Even more shameful were the headlines, along with the details behind them; which placed prying eyes on the child’s father, who was not at the zoo with the family on that day, but according to media reports, had previous problems with the law.

What, I ask you, did this have to do with this family’s harrowing experience?

Publications such as The Daily Mail offered bold headlines that read, “EXCLUSIVE: Parents-of-four whose son fell into zoo enclosure sparking killing of Harambe the gorilla as it emerges father has a lengthy criminal history – including kidnap and drug trafficking.”

Yet the same publication offered a more sensitive bold headline, with supporting verbiage, in response to the Graves family, a Caucasian couple, and the alligator-based killing of their young son.

“’Words cannot describe the shock and grief’: Parents of boy, 2, dragged to his death by an alligator break their silence as Disney ‘faces multi-million-dollar payout’ and vows to install warning signs.”

 …and went further to include the verbiage below:

 Matt and Melissa Graves have said they are devastated by their loss 

  • They tried to save Lane as he was pulled underwater by the predator

  • Couple were on vacation from Nebraska with their other child at the time

  • Autopsy found Lane died ‘as a result of drowning and traumatic injuries’

  • The parents spoke out as Disney announced a change to its sign policy

  • Many questioned why they didn’t have an alligator warning near the water 

  • All beaches, including the Grand Floridian’s, have been shut since Tuesday

  • Legal experts predict the family could get a huge payout for damages 

In further contrast... The Daily Mail article shows photos of the parents, Michelle Gregg, 32 and Isaiah’s dad, Deonne Dickerson, 36, in a car, smiling…


(In what can be seen as an implication of ‘carelessness’), preceded by the verbiage below:

“These are the parents of the four-year-old boy whose 15-feet fall into the gorilla exhibit moat in Cincinnati Zoo resulted in the death of 17-year-old silverback gorilla, Harambe. Seen here for the first time is mother Michelle Gregg, 32, who has four children by father Deonne Dickerson, 36, a man who, Daily Mail Online can disclose, has a lengthy criminal history. Criminal filings against Dickerson stretch over a decade and include burglary, firearms offences, drug trafficking, criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and kidnap.”

And although Michelle Gregg ultimately had no charges filed against her, after all was said and done, she did spend two hours in the police station (police went to her home and took her in soon after the incident) where officers stated to an angry public that their review was “…only regarding the actions of the parents/family that led up to the incident and not related to the operation or safety of the Cincinnati Zoo.”

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“After the review, we will determine if charges need to be brought forward,” police spokeswoman Tiffaney Hardy said about Michelle Gregg and the boy’s father, Deonne. “If it is determined charges need to be brought forward, we would then discuss it with the Hamilton County prosecutor’s office.”

Yet when it came to the Disney incident, Daily Mail reports placed more emphasis on the company, not the parents, reporting…

“ The company has faced questions over why the signs by the water said ‘no swimming’, even though a neighboring hotel alerted guests to the underwater beasts.

 It’s so very unfortunate, and quite frankly, an outright damn shame, that racism and prejudice finds what it believes to be a safe haven in the media’s presentation of experiences that involve Caucasians vs. people of color, and an angry, racist public that feeds off of it with finger-pointing and blame for one family, and compassionate words and hugs for another.

One child’s untimely death and another child’s horrifying, near-death experience makes me shudder to think if reactions would have been any different, had both children met their death.

For those who still scratch their heads when it comes to racism and how racist beliefs are perpetuated, feel free to take a look at the examples in this article. It is precisely in these out-loud responses to such similar incidents (even though the endings differed) that we see there is STILL much work to do when it comes to how the all powerful white media continues to perpetuate and serve up biases from a racist infrastructure to a public that continues to feed off of it.

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