What comes to your mind when you think of Detroit…cars? The Red Wings? Motown music? What comes to my mind is a gorilla. A dead gorilla.
Last month, over Memorial Day weekend, Harambe the gorilla was shot to death at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. He was killed in order to protect the life of a 4-year-old boy who had fallen into the animal’s enclosure.
The story became a national phenomenon, inciting thousands of responses on social media and hundreds of news stories. The outrage expressed by the public was extreme, with many calling the shooting both senseless and murderous.
A Facebook page titled “Justice for Harambe” had more than 3,000 likes by Sunday afternoon (the day after the incident). Within 48 hours, an online petition had garnered more than 330,000 signatures in reaction to the zoo and police’s handling of the situation and calling for criminal charges against the mother of the child. In hundreds of comments on the petition, supporters said Harambe, an innocent animal, had not deserved to die.
A vigil was held outside the zoo on Monday with gorilla supporters holding placards that read “R.I.P. Harambe,” “Because his life mattered,” and “In loving memory, Harambe.” Inside, flowers were placed at a gorilla statue.
Tragic as it was—that an animal died to save the life of a little boy—even more tragic was the lack of expressed relief and joy that a human life was spared. The disproportionate attention given to the unfortunate death of an animal over the life of a human says something about what our society values.
The glory of a child’s rescue is overshadowed by the death of a gorilla. We seem to care more about the destruction of a beast than the preservation of a human. At least that is what gets the attention.
This brings me back to Detroit.
I am perplexed that there is more interest expressed about our city’s economics, education, and road systems than the mounting and needless loss of life occurring in this city and its suburbs due to the drug crisis at hand.
Don’t get me wrong. Jobs and street lights and SAT scores are important (and certainly related to the drug problem). But when we are losing young men and women every day and Eminem’s selling of his sneakers and Burger King’s melding of the Whopper with a burrito is getting more publicity, something is terribly wrong.
We have a crisis here in Detroit. An epidemic. And it is time to declare a state of emergency.
- Heroin and opiate overdose deaths doubled in Wayne County from 123 to 247 between 1999 and 2013;
- In Macomb County, heroin overdose deaths jumped from 61 people in 2012 to 94 in 2013 (a 35% increase in 1 year)
- In Oakland County, there is at least one heroin related death every day, and many days there are more (most of those deaths are people between the ages 17 and 25)
“If you don’t think there’s a heroin epidemic, you better
dig a bigger hole and bury your head even deeper.”
(Oakland County Sheriff’s Department narcotics detective)
This is not a city versus suburb thing. Detroit feeds the surrounding communities. Suburbanites go to Detroit to purchase drugs. What’s more, law enforcement agencies have identified a drug pipeline from Detroit that goes into Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
Statewide, heroin overdose deaths increased nearly fivefold in Michigan since 2002. A total of 225 people died from heroin in 2013, up from 46 heroin deaths in 2002. In fact, we are losing more citizens to drugs than car accidents. In 2014, 1,745 deaths were reported due to drug overdoses compared to 876 fatalities from car accidents.
This is a serious matter. People are dying. Families are breaking. Communities are imploding.
Detroit, we have a problem.