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The Idea That the Cincinnati Zoo Mom Did Something Criminal Is Outrageous

3 minute read

Darlena Cunha is a contributor to TIME

An animal is dead, and a young child is alive after the toddler fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo last weekend. Instead of applause for all involved for saving the life of the child, public outrage against the parents, Michelle Gregg and Deonne Dickerson has reached ridiculous—and serious—heights, culminating in a police investigation on their actions. The Hamilton County prosecuting attorney said in a statement that the office would make a decision as early as Friday on whether to press charges.

It’s understandable that the police would look into an event in which a child was in danger. But the overblown attention to this story and the public backlash against the parents is outlandish.

Nearly 500,000 people signed a petition to actively investigate and hold responsible the family for this tragic accident. The petition suggests that “this negligence may be reflective of the child’s home situation.”

How would they know that?

The response to the boy’s mother in particular has been deafening—and unwarranted. In multiple videos, you can hear her trying to comfort her son while unable to save him, and speaking to a 911 operator, whom she called immediately.

Compare this case to other recent zoo accidents, like the mother who allegedly dangled her child over a cheetah pit in Cleveland last year or the mother who allegedly held her kid above a pack of wild painted dogs in Pittsburgh in 2013. In the Cleveland case, the child fell and broke his leg, and the mother was charged with child endangerment. In the Pittsburgh case, the child fell and was killed, and the mother was not charged. After the parents sued the zoo, and the zoo countersued, the lawsuits were settled. Both instances were largely ignored by the Internet masses. Law enforcement and the courts were left to do their jobs.

Gregg was not actively helping her child get into mischief. She looked away for one minute, as any parent has done before. A mistake? Yes. Negligence worthy of jail time after so much trauma has already been served? I say no.

Read more: The Cincinnati Zoo Mom Is My Hero

In this case, there are people saying the boy and his mother should be dead. There are people scrutinizing a mom for being thankful her child is alive. There are talk show hosts and pundits asking not “What went wrong here and how can we prevent this from happening again?” but “Why wasn’t the mother watching her son?”

Many people are jumping to broad, negative, conclusions about this woman’s home, family and life. They are assuming, for some reason, that she didn’t care about what her son was doing, even though all evidence points to the contrary. We were not there. We cannot say that she is a negligent parent. Deidre Lykins was there. She says Gregg was vigilant, strong and utterly distraught.

Too many would rather throw stones than take an eyewitness account into consideration. They would rather manipulate parents’ feelings of anger and fear. Why? To make them feel better about themselves. The easiest way to do that is to say: “She is negligent. I am not. That would never happen to me.” They are wrong.

We should let the police do their jobs. Let them investigate because that is what they have to do, not because there is some random piece of super-evidence that will show the world this poor mother is a bad mother.

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