Last week Bonnie Sweeten, a 40-year-old white woman, was sentenced to eight years in prison for a host of crimes including stealing money from her family and the law firm where she worked and lying about being kidnapped by two black men. Sweeten had actually taken her daughter to Disney World with her ill-gotten gains. Her criminal actions cost law-enforcement agencies thousands of dollars as a multistate search for the woman and her child ensued, even though they were just kicking it with Mickey Mouse.
Sweeten, who was clearly living in fantasy land in thinking that she could get away with robbing, stealing and lying on folks, made a conscious decision to blame two black men in order to get away with her crimes. While she is clearly off-center, her choice of whom to blame was rational because it got her the result she wanted: a great diversion while she and her daughter enjoyed Disney World without a care in the world.
The fact that a woman would potentially cause harm to others over a jaunt to Disney World speaks to how little some people value the lives of black people in this country. Worse than that, people like Sweeten know that if they blame a black man (or woman), then they have a better chance of getting away with the crime.
Amanda Knox blamed a black man when she was accused by Italian police of killing her roommate. Her false accusations left the falsely accused Diya "Patrick" Lumumba, a local business owner, ostensibly bankrupt. Remember Bethanny Storro and her acid-attack hoax, in which she threw acid in her own face and yet blamed a black woman for the crime? Storro wanted media attention and, ironically, to meet Oprah Winfrey, the most powerful black woman in the world. It was Winfrey's producers who discovered the gaping holes in Storro's story and alerted police to her lies.
Therein lies the problem: Law-enforcement agencies pull out all the stops when a white woman says a black man or woman has committed a crime against her, even when the white woman is the actual predator. The behavior of the white woman and law enforcement plays to the worst aspects of our society: the idea that black men in particular and blacks in general are violent and obsessed with white women to such an extent that white women need to be protected from blacks at all costs.
When white women are the aggressor, they get a pass — like Storro, who was sentenced to treatment for mental illness. Let me falsely accuse a white woman of a crime and rob several charities to the tune of $28,000, and I doubt very seriously that I would be sentenced to mental-health care. I would think it would be jail, restitution and more jail. This ideology of white women as victims and black people as predators is so pervasive that even people who should know better still lean on this perverse way of thinking.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's most recent descent into madness caused her to put her finger in the face of President Obama. Brewer says that she felt threatened by him, when it is clear that she was the aggressor in the situation. Clearly, she is suffering from an acute case of "blame a black man" syndrome. This powerful white woman wants to pretend that she was at risk, when in fact President Obama was at risk because she was enraged and behaving erratically.
What sane person is going to run up on the president of the United States, stick a finger in his face and yell at him? An insane person might actually do that and then do the most sane thing possible: Paint this black man as the aggressor, even though the photos tell a very different story. Psychologists would call that sociopathic behavior, but I'll just call her that crazy lady running the state of Arizona into the ground.
It is Brewer's ability to outright lie about what transpired between President Obama and her that is frightening, and speaks to why cases like Sweeten's get so much media and law-enforcement attention, even though the accusations are false. The ability of white women to paint black men as aggressors, despite any evidence, and to be believed immediately by law enforcement often has dire consequences for the accused — see Emmett Till or the scores of black men rounded up when Susan Smith falsely accused a black man of killing her children in South Carolina.
Sweeten's punishment suggests that the legal system is finally willing to prosecute white women who lie on black men about crimes and to give them sentences that reflect the enormity of the crime, which is a good thing. I just wonder if the outcome of this horrendous situation will become the exception or the rule.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., a media scholar, is digital editor in chief at Grady Newsource and a faculty member of the Cox Institute of Journalism, Innovation, Management & Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is founder and editor in chief of the award-winning news blog the Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter here or here.