Australian New Outlets Wrongly Identify Indigenous Man As Cleo Smith's Kidnapper

Photo: Facebook / WA Police
Terrance Flowers, Cleo Smith

An Indigenous man was wrongfully identified as the man who abducted 4-year-old Cleo Smith by Australian news outlet, 7News.

Terrance “Terry” Flowers, also known by his mother’s last name, Kelly, on social media, shares the same name as Cleo’s alleged abductor, though spells it differently. 

However, Flowers was wrongfully pictured as the young child’s kidnapper with his picture circulating social media.

Terrance Flowers was mistaken for Terence Kelly, Cleo's accused kidnapper.

Many have called out the ignorance of the media for mistaking Terence Kelly, the man arrested for allegedly kidnapping Cleo, with any other dark-skinned man with a similar name.

After being misidentified, Flowers was subjected to a bombardment of death threats, including that he would be speared in a traditional Aboriginal punishment.

Flowers reportedly had to remove all of his social media accounts due to the severe harassment shortly after 7News shared his photo.

The news outlet has since removed all of the posts made about Flowers, as well as releasing a short apology.

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“Earlier on Wednesday 7News wrongly showed images of a man that were incorrectly labelled as the person under arrest over the disappearance of Cleo Smith,” the statement read on the media outlet’s website.

The Aboriginal community in Western Australia were already facing racism over Cleo’s abduction.

Police commissioner Chris Dawson reportedly held an emergency meeting with twenty Aboriginal elders to ask for their help in easing tensions in the community.

A recent study found that 75 percent of Australians hold an implicit bias against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

Respondents to the study were shown black-and-white photographs from the late 19th and early 20th century of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples along with white people, and asked to give a word to associate with the pictures.

The test measured how quickly the respondent clicked a button to associate a positive word with the images of Indigenous people or a white person.

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People who were quick to click the button were seen as holding a bias toward Indigenous people, while people who were slow to associate the positive word with the image of an Indigenous person are seen as biased against them. 

There has also been an increase in discrimination against Indigenous Australians within the last two years.

A survey found the percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who reported experiencing at least one form of major discrimation increased in 2019 from from 28.6% to 52.1%, and still remains very high at 49.7%.

It was also noted that LGBTIQ+ Indigenous people experienced the highest rates of discrimation out of any other intersectional group.

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With the misidentification of Terry Flowers, the racism is only being heightened as people use the excuse of mistaking him for Cleo Smith’s abductor as a reason to harass and perpetuate their racial bias against him and other Aboriginal people.

Terry Flowers’ aunt, Miss Beazely, told Ngaarda Media that Flowers was devastated to see his picture circulating the internet for a crime he did not commit.

"He broke down and cried and he was sobbing. I'd like people to wait for the police to give out information,” she said.

Terry Flowers plans to sue the media outlet who shared the photos of him in connection to the abduction. 

He wants the media outlets to learn from this and be professional when covering stories in the future.

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Brooklyn. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.