Daily Mail Harambe
Daily Mail

In a week that has seen hundreds of our fellow humans drown in the sea trying to get to a safer place to live, the tragic story of Harambe, a silverback gorilla, shot dead after a four-year-old child fell into his cage at Cincinnati Zoo gobbled up the column inches.

I doubt there are many parents who haven't, at some point, felt the icy cold hand of fear that runs down the spine when the child you are supposed to be caring for is suddenly not where they are supposed to be. This happened to me in 1995 when my daughter was 4. I found her with a kind but judgemental Arndale Centre security guard. This week's unlucky family found their son in the clutches of a 400lbs, 17 year-old silverback gorilla.

Gorillas are extremely endangered and their proximity to humans on the evolutionary tree makes it easier for us to feel sympathy for them. The public needed someone to blame for Harambe's death and when pictures of the boy's parents were made public, the right wing press knew it had found its culprits.

Michelle Gregg, 32, and Deonne Dickerson, 36, are seen smiling as they drive in their car. Whereas, I look at the picture and see an ordinary looking couple who had an extraordinary thing happen to them on a trip to the zoo, some people saw something else.

"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."

Alongside a picture of the couple grinning and wearing hooded tops, this paints a clear picture of the child's father in the minds of onlookers.

Unless they are flying high in the music charts, black Americans are only really ever seen in right wing news when they have committed a crime. For many people, the simple grinning picture of this couple will confirm that they are morally deficient, lax in their parenting and that they have caused the death of this magnificent creature.

Since the incident, the child's parents have been met with a barrage of criticism, with many people telling them that they should have been shot instead of the Harambe.

Mother of two Kate Villanueva who set up Facebook page 'Justice for Harambe' after the incident said of the parents to the AP: "I do think there's a degree of responsibility they have to be held to. You have to be watching your children at all times."

The page, which appears to place the blame with the boy's parents, has already attracted 290,000 members.

By playing into readers' prejudices, the idea of black people as criminal and feckless is cemented. The power of dog-whistle journalism is such now that the story doesn't need to mention the race of the parents - it can simple show a picture and list some key parts of the father's life history, and the auto-correct in the reader's mind does the rest.

The Mail article also mentions that he works at a Cincinnati industrial equipment supplier and that she is the administrator at a Cincinnati pre-school. It also states how the the father of four had turned his life around, studied at Cuyahoga Community College and that his social media postings seems solely concerned with his children and his working life. But this is only mentioned later on in the story. Of course by then, the scene has already been set.

Cincinnati Zoo director defends shooting dead silverback gorilla HarambeIBTimes UK