Move over Charles Stuart and Susan Smith. Bonnie Sweeten of suburban Philadelphia has now qualified to be inducted into the Hall of Shame that bestows special recognition upon Whites who have committed crimes and then falsely blamed a Black man.
Sweeten and her 9-year-old daughter, Julia, were the subject of a national missing persons search. The drama began when Sweeten made a frantic call to 9-1-1 at 1:45 p.m. on Tuesday saying after a fender-bender accident involving her GMC Yukon Denali and a Cadillac; Black men in the other car forced her and little Julia into the trunk of their Cadillac and sped off. She said the abduction took place on a street in Upper Southhampton Township in Bucks County.
Aided by the FBI, police in the region conducted a massive manhunt and issued an Amber Alert for Julia Rakoczy, Sweeten’s daughter from a previous marriage. But the Big Lie began to unravel piece-by-piece. First, Sweeten’s Yukon was not found near the intersection where she claimed the abduction took place. Instead, it was recovered approximately 12 hours later at 15th and Chestnut streets in downtown Philadelphia.
A parking ticket had been placed on the windshield of the SUV at 2:20 p.m. Tuesday, about a half-hour after Sweeten placed the frantic call to 9-1-1. Investigators doubted Black men or anyone else could have made the 25-mile trip from Upper Southampton in the middle of the day within 30 minutes.
Investigators also discovered a videotape of Sweeten and her daughter passing through a security screening device at the Philadelphia International Airport. Retracing Sweeten’s steps, authorities learned that she had purchased two one-way tickets to Orlando, Fla. After withdrawing $12,000 from various accounts in days leading up to her departure, she borrowed a co-worker’s license – purportedly in order to deal with a pension matter – and used the license to buy the tickets to Florida.
Sweeten and her daughter were traced to Disneyworld and were apprehended as they were returning to the Grand Floridian resort. Attorney Debbie Calitz, Sweeten’s former employer, told the Philadelphia Daily News that Sweeten "stole money from my law practice," which may account for her decision to flee. After being escorted back to Philadelphia, Sweeten was charged with identity theft and making a false police report.
When I first heard of the hoax, I thought back to a story Lee Daniels, a former reporter for the New York Times, wrote for me in February 1995 when I was editor of Emerge magazine. The headline was, "The American Way: Blame a Black Man." Daniels wrote, "Susan Smith knew the powerful grip the image of the dangerous Black man has on White Americans’ psyche. And who can doubt it? In her descent into pathological desperation, that knowledge became for her, as it had for Charles Stuart, the crucial element in calculating that she could commit the gruesome crime and get away with it."
Smith was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murdering her two sons, Michael, 3, and Alexander, four months old, in Union, S.C. She told police in 1994 that an armed Black man had hijacked her car at a stoplight. She said after driving around for a while, she was forced to get out of the car, leaving her kids behind. For nine days, she stood by her story, making tearful televised appeals for the return of her children. After being confronted with several holes in the story, she confessed to driving her 1990 Mazda Protege to a lake, putting the car in drive, and hopping out after releasing the hand brake. She watched as the car rolled into the lake and sank with her two sons strapped into back seats.
On October 23, 1989, Charles Stuart, the manager of an upscale fur store in Boston, also committed a horrendous crime. He shot his pregnant wife and himself, apparently as part of an insurance scheme. After going to childbirth classes at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Stuart said a Black gunman forced his way into their car at a stoplight and shot him in the stomach and his wife, Carol, in the head. Both the wife and baby died. The break in the case came when Stuart’s brother, Matthew, went to police and admitted that he had gone to the murder scene, by prearrangement with his brother, to remove his sister-in-law’s jewelry, purse and the gun. The next day, Charles Stuart committed suicide by jumping off a bridge into the Boston Harbor. Matthew Stuart was sentenced to three to five years in prison for concealing evidence in the case.
During last year’s presidential campaign, Ashley Todd, a campaign worker for John McCain, claimed that she was robbed at knifepoint on October 22nd by a "six-foot four African-American" at an ATM in Pittsburgh. She said the alleged robber saw a McCain sticker on her car and became enraged, cutting a backward "B (for Barack) into her cheek. She later admitted lying. Although charged with making a false police report, Todd was enrolled in a first-time offender’s program and can have her record expunged upon successful completion of probation.
Whether it was Bonnie Sweeten in Philadelphia, Susan Smith, Charles Stuart, Asheley Todd or Jennifer Wilbanks (the "Runaway Bride") – who claimed a Latino man and a White woman abducted and sexually assaulted her – sick Whites are not so sick that they fail to realize that they can play into America’s stereotype of Black males as criminals. That sterotype was present before and it persists even as an African-American male sits in the White House.