Abduction hoax: Blaming the black guys

Bonnie Sweeten's story of being abducted in broad daylight by two black men was a hoax—she and her daughter were staying in a luxury hotel at Disney World.

“Turns out ‘Hostage Mom’ made it all up,” said Annette John-Hall in The Philadelphia Inquirer. A 38-year-old Pennsylvania woman named Bonnie Sweeten made several frantic calls to police last week, claiming that she and her 9-year-old daughter had been abducted in broad daylight by two black men, following a fender bender. Sweeten even tossed in the vivid detail that she was calling from the trunk of the abductors’ Cadillac. The story smelled from the start; at the very least, why hadn’t these “bad, bad black men” taken away her cell phone? Nevertheless, the media jumped. “A fresh abduction of a blond and her child? Watch those ratings soar!” Fortunately, said the Inquirer in an editorial, after about 36 hours police “unraveled Sweeten’s big, racist lie.” It turns out that she was staying with her daughter in a luxury hotel at Disney World. Sweeten is now suspected of taking off after stealing from a law firm where she worked as a paralegal.

This sure sounds familiar, said Roland Martin in Essence.com. Remember Charles Stuart, the Boston man who in 1989 claimed that “a black man shot and killed his pregnant wife”? Actually, he did it himself. Then there was Susan Smith, the South Carolina mother who in 1994 said a black man had abducted her two sons. In truth, she had driven her car into a lake with the boys strapped in. The list goes on. What may be most disheartening is that these “sick folks” all assumed “society would believe their story.” The good news, said Michael Smerconish in the Inquirer, is that these bogus charges may have outlived their usefulness. Criminal profilers say the “pretend victims” are driven less by racism than by an assumption that their claims will be believed. In Sweeten’s case, many observers were skeptical right from the start. “Memo to hoaxers: You’ve overplayed the race card.”

I guess we can take some solace in that, said Elmer Smith in the Philadelphia Daily News. After Sweeten called with her outlandish story, police “didn’t start rounding up every black man who fit the general description.” And Sweeten reportedly left behind an incriminating “paper trail” that will likely lead to embezzlement charges—which would certainly serve as “a deterrent to the next fable spinner.” Of course, this is all small comfort to the countless black men “who have found themselves in the dragnet after one of these bogus yarns.” And lest we forget, “some of them have been convicted on the basis of lies not much better than this one.”

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