Alleged Hate Crime Victim May Have Set Herself on Fire, Not the KKK

Sharmeka MoffittThis is totally, absolutely, gut-wrenchingly horrible: a 20-year-old woman initially said she was doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire while she exercised at a park in Winnsboro, Louisiana on Sunday night. Police responded to a 911 call from 20-year-old Sharmeka Moffitt and found her with third-degree burns on more than half of her body. She was able to put the flames out herself before officers arrived, but the incident has left her in critical condition.

She claimed her alleged assailants were three unknown men who also wrote “KKK” and a racial slur on her car. So, ostensibly, Moffitt was singled out because she’s black. The FBI has been investigating the attack as a hate crime, though they haven’t found have any suspects or made any arrests. Which is a good thing, considering authorities are now claiming Moffitt made the whole thing up and set herself ablaze. 

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When I first heard whispers of this story on Monday, only semi-credible sources were reporting it and I appeased myself by thinking it was possible that the whole thing was sensationalized. My hope was that, in 2012, no black woman would be the victim of a random attack simply because she was just that—a black woman in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Then I thought about James Byrd, the black man who met the most inhumane death when he was tied to and dragged from the back of a pickup truck in Texas, and Matthew Shepard, the student at the University of Wyoming who was tortured and murdered by thugs pretending to be gay. So even though it seemed so cruel, even for the Klan, who has calmed down considerably since their heyday as hate crime anarchists, I gave her the benefit of the doubt about being randomly brutalized.

Details are still unfolding, but Louisiana's Franklin Parish sheriff's office now say she may have made the whole story up.

A representative from the local NAACP said that hate crimes and race-based violence are still commonplace in that section of Louisiana, which is terrifying for the residents there but also minorities everywhere. Because if one of us is singled out for a heartless assault like this, then all of us are vulnerable, in the heart of the South and everywhere else. And the even scarier part is no law on the books or special effort at public education is going to keep someone with violence on their minds from carrying out their intentions.

But if she is faking, this is a serious allegation to wield against a community with already heightened racial sensitivities (not to mention a waste of police manpower and the FBI’s time, which is a colossal no-no).

My prayers go to her, of course, and her mother and the rest of her family as they not only try to make sense of this craziness, but go through the process of healing from it—physically, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. And if you believe in any kind of higher power, send positive thoughts on over her way, too. I know prayer isn’t respected in many social circles, but it’s the only coping mechanism I know in a situation as complex as this. And obviously, if she crafted this story, she needs a whole lot of prayer anyway.

How do hate crimes affect how we operate as a society?


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