This past Saturday Harambee, a 400-pound silverback gorilla, was killed at the Cincinnati zoo. Over the same weekend 27 people were shot, within walking distance from where I’m currently staying on Chicago’s westside. I knew all about Harambee but absolutely nothing of those 27 shootings because they occurred across an imaginary line of gentrification, where even the city streets appear to be maintained radically different. I’ve heard much about how Harambee’s life could have been spared, even as he violently dragged a child around his enclosure. But not much has been said about how we could have saved 27 of my neighbors and that’s the discussion which should be prioritized. I guess they and their shooters are just considered, ironically, “animals.”
George Zimmerman’s gun auction should make clear what value America places on black life. It isn’t just that we don’t value it but that we place monetary value on ending it. This has been true for a long time. It was true in 1955 when Emmitt Till’s killers were paid $4,000 for telling their tale of cold-blooded murder to Look magazine just four months after their acquittal. That acquittal by an all-white jury took only 67 minutes; one juror even said, “If we hadn’t stopped to drink pop, it wouldn’t have taken that long.” George Zimmerman’s trial at least had the appearance of legitimacy but the aftermath is eerily similar and every bit as painful as the Emmitt Till ordeal. Zimmerman is set to make hundreds of thousands from the sell of the gun he used to kill Martin, much like Till’s killers were paid for their story. Different decades, similar results– that should terrify us enough to act.