The supervisor of a small town in upstate Dutchess County said this week that he’s “absolutely not racist” for posting memes involving Harambe, the Cincinnati zoo gorilla shot after a child fell into his enclosure, on his Facebook page before he was elected.
James Schmitt, the Pawling town supervisor, posted the images on his social media account on May 31 and June 1, 2016, a year before he was elected on the Republican, Conservative, and Independence ballots, the Albany Times Union reported on Tuesday.
The memes remained on his Facebook page until this summer when they disappeared, the newspaper reported.
In an interview with TU, Schmitt insisted that he was “absolutely not” racist, and expressed surprise that “people could have perceived this in a negative light.”
The postings referred to Harambe who was fatally shot by a Cincinnati Zoo worker in May 2016 after a 3-year-old boy fell into his enclosure, the Times Union said.
The gorilla grabbed the boy and dragged him around the exhibit.
Following his death, the 450-pound Harambe quickly became a meme, his image appeared on a variety of products and his followers created a “Justice for Harambe” petition.
One of the images Schmitt posted showed a smiling white gorilla along with the words: “Pretty sure the white gorilla would just have been tranquilized. Too soon?”
The other featured a black gorilla with an infant gorilla on its back.
“If I throw my baby on stage at a concert, will they shoot Kanye?” it said.
That image on Schmitt’s page had 70 positive reactions.
Schmitt in a series of texts on Tuesday with the newspaper said he didn’t realize the memes would be seen negatively and noted that he hadn’t received any blowback following the postings.
He also said none of his Republican colleagues raised concerns after his election.
“I am proud to come from a diverse family and community here in Pawling. This shared post was not meant to be received in a derogatory manner at all,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we live in a society where people are actively looking to cancel individuals based on differences in beliefs, rather than working together to find common ground and solutions to problems. If anyone took offense to this post, I truly do apologize, but this appears to be politically motivated, rather than looking out for the people of our community,” he continued.
A screenshot under one of the now-deleted posts shows that a person wrote that the image was “straight up disgusting and racist.”
“How is this racist?” Schmitt responded.
He said he removed the posts “out of respect for our community.”
Jamie Piccone, the chairman of the Pawling Republican Party, said he had “no idea” about Schmitt’s memes.
He told the newspaper that he had heard somebody “dug all that up” and described the situation as “when people go after someone for their own benefit.”