A Hate Crime? Never Mind

The tale of the mysterious black assailant who threw acid in the face of the white victim won immediate national attention. Not surprisingly, it turned out to be a hoax.

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When is a hate crime not a hate crime? When there's no perpetrator and no victim. Bethany Storro was white and pretty. Her alleged assailant was black and dangerous. Who goes around with a cup of acid and throws it in the face of pretty white girls? Apparently, someone with a severe mental disorder. As it turns out, that person was Storro herself, who apparently splashed acid in her own face and put the finger on an unknown and mysterious black woman.

Storro said she was approached by a stranger outside a Starbucks in Vancouver, Wash., on Aug. 30 and was asked, ''Hey, pretty little girl, want to take a drink of this?'' Storro claimed an African-American woman wearing her hair pulled back in a ponytail splashed her with an acidlike liquid. Apparently, the only thing that saved Storro's eyesight was a pair of sunglasses she had purchased less than an hour before the attack. There's no way to know how many sisters in Vancouver immediately stopped wearing their hair in ponytails after that report.

This particular urban nightmare won Storro national press coverage, outpourings of sympathy from around the world, financial donations for her medical bills and reconstructive facial surgery, and a scheduled appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Storro canceled on Oprah, saying on her now-closed Facebook page, "I was going to be on Oprah, but [that's] not going to happen! From the very beginning, I wanted to inspire people (hope I have) and tell them about Jesus. The show was going to possibly turn into another direction, so my family and I have decided not to go on."

Typically, when you need a go-to scapegoat, you can usually "blame a brother." Storro stepped up her game to "slander a sister." After all, pretty white girls who get acid thrown in their faces by psychotic black women sporting ponytails are instantly sympathetic figures. Who wouldn't feel sorry for Storro? Too bad she's apparently a psychotic liar.

He went on: ''My thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the Bethany Storro hoax. That includes the general public, those wrongly profiled, those that lived in fear, the business that lost customers, and by all means, Storro's family and friends. And even Storro herself.''

This poor woman needs professional help. Anyone who would deliberately disfigure herself to gain sympathy, donations and an appearance on Oprah is obviously in deep trouble. Then, immediately after she gets treatment, Storro needs to go straight to jail. Do not pass "Go." Do not write a book about how you pulled off this fraud, and do not go on television to explain your hustle. Prosecutors in Vancouver are mulling whether to charge Storro with false reporting and felony theft by deception because of the money donated to cover her medical bills.

Storro may be disturbed or just plain nuts, but she was aware enough to know the hot buttons that are pushed by the specter of black criminals preying on white victims. It worked for Charles Stuart when he gunned down his pregnant wife, shot himself and blamed it on a black mugger, it worked for Susan Smith when she drowned her two kids and blamed it on a black carjacker, and it worked for Ashley Todd when she said a crazy black supporter of Barack Obama carved a "B" on her cheek.

Why do these vile lies work so well? Could it be the nagging suspicion in America that its most violent criminals are blacks preying on innocent whites? Never mind that black criminals mostly prey on black people, and stranger-on-stranger crimes such as random acid attacks are rare. It fits into a narrative of street crime that too many believe to be the gospel truth.  

It's tough to pull the race card here after the Tawana Brawley and Duke Lacrosse cases. It's all too clear that two can play the game of false accusations. Every time there is one of these "cry wolf" hoaxes, it makes the cries of the legitimate victims of hate crimes sound a bit tinny and hollow. Let's make a deal: The next time one of these little horror stories occur (and there will be a next time), we should show reasonable compassion for the innocent but reserve a healthy amount of skepticism until someone is actually found guilty.

Jeff Winbush is the former editor of The Columbus Post newspaper and a freelance journalist. His blog, The Domino Theory, can be found on his Web site.

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