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NEW YORK (Reuters) - African Americans criticized a New York Post cartoon as racist Wednesday, saying it likened President Barack Obama to an ape -- a potent image in the history of racism toward blacks.
The cartoon, which the newspaper defended as a parody of Washington politics, depicts a police shooting of an ape, playing off the real shooting of a pet chimpanzeee in Connecticut this week. One of the police officers says, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."
Because Obama promoted the $787 billion economic stimulus that he signed into law Tuesday, critics of the cartoon interpreted the dead chimp as a reference to Obama, who became the first black U.S. president on January 20.
"The cartoon in today's New York Post is troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African Americans as being synonymous with monkeys," civil rights activist Al Sharpton said.
Calling the cartoon "offensive and divisive," he promised to stage a demonstration outside the Post offices Thursday.
New York City Councilman Leroy Comrie said he received numerous calls from outraged constituents.
"To run such a violent, racist cartoon is an insult to all New Yorkers. This was an unfortunate incident in which a human being was seriously injured, not an opportunity to sling dangerous rhetoric," Comrie said in a statement.
Police in Stamford, Connecticut, shot and killed a 200-pound (90-kg) chimpanzee Monday after the pet nearly killed its owner's friend and attacked a police car. The chimp, named Travis, had once starred in television commercials and was taking medication for Lyme disease.
New York Post Editor-in-Chief Col Allan said in a statement the cartoon was "a clear parody."
"It broadly mocks Washington's efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist," Allan said.
But the National Association of Black Journalists called the cartoon "the lowest common denominator of taste and class."
"The publisher and editors of The New York Post owe its readers an explanation," association President Barbara Ciara said in a statement.
The right-leaning Post is owned by Rupert Murdoch's international media conglomerate News Corp.
Reporting by Christine Kearney and Edith Honan; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Frances Kerry