A racial hoax is a hoax that occurs "when someone fabricates a crime and blames it on another person because of [his or her] race or when an actual crime has been committed and the perpetrator falsely blames someone because of [his or her] race".
The term was popularised by Katheryn Russell-Brown in her book The Color of Crime: Racial Hoaxes, White Fear, Black Protectionism, Police Harassment and Other Macroaggressions (1998). A racial hoax can be performed by a person of any race, against a person of any race. According to Russell-Brown racial hoaxes against African Americans are most likely to receive media attention and create a more acute social problem due to the criminal black man stereotype.
Patricia L. Brougham argued that the common stereotype of criminal black men has enabled the use of racial hoaxes against this group. Brougham writes that these stereotypes cause law enforcement agencies to believe that a black perpetrator exists when in reality the allegation is false.
Russell-Brown argues that racial hoaxes are devised, perpetrated, and successful because they take advantage of fears and stereotypes. According to her, white-on-black hoaxes are the most likely to receive media attention and to cause social and economics problems. She argues that anyone performing a racial hoax should face criminal charges, particularly if a black person is targeted, and that hoaxes targeting black people create more severe problems than those against other racial groups. Letha A. See in Violence as Seen Through a Prism of Color (2001) sees the hoax as a unique method used against specific racial groups, rather than against individuals. Sally S. Simpson and Robert Agnew suggest that the unusual nature of some racial hoaxes can cause them to be dismissed.
Between 1987 and 1996 in the United States, Russell-Brown documented 67 racial hoax cases, and notes the following: 70 percent were white-on-black hoaxes; more than half were exposed within a week; hoaxes are most frequently used to allege assault, rape, or murder; hoax perpetrators were charged with filing a false report in about 45 percent of cases. These cases represent only a fraction of the total number of cases because racial hoaxes are not reported as such and most crimes are not covered in the media. According to Russell-Brown, a high proportion of the white-on-black cases were performed by police and judicial officers; she documents seven such cases. Historically the most common type of hoax performed against black males was rape. Because of fears over the 'black rapist', Russell-Brown suggests "it is not surprising that so many White women have created Black male rapists as their fictional criminals".
An alternative type of hoax is when a member of a disadvantaged group pretends to be a victim of a hate crime often in order to inflame societal racial tensions, gain social capital through legitimizing grievance and gaining victim status or to distract attention from their own misconduct in another activity.
In the United States there has been little legal response to racial hoaxes. Russel-Brown wrote that (at the time of the book written) only New Jersey considered legislation to criminalize racial hoaxes.
Tawana Glenda Brawley gained notoriety in 1987–88 for falsely accusing six white men of having raped her. The charges received widespread national attention because of her age (15), the persons accused (including police officers and a prosecuting attorney), and the shocking state in which Brawley was discovered after the rape (naked and covered with feces). Brawley's accusations were given widespread media attention in part from the involvement of her advisers, including the Reverend Al Sharpton and attorneys Alton H. Maddox, Jr. and C. Vernon Mason, three other African-Americans.
After hearing evidence, a grand jury concluded in October 1988 that Brawley had not been a victim of rape and that she herself may have created the appearance of an attack. Steven Pagones, the New York prosecutor whom Brawley had accused as being one of her assailants, successfully sued her and her three advisers for defamation.
The case of Charles Stuart is often cited as an example of a racial hoax. On October 23, 1989, in Boston, Stuart and his pregnant wife Carol were driving when, according to Stuart, a black gunman forced his way into the car and shot them both, hitting Carol in the head and Stuart in the body. Still alive, Stuart drove away and called the police, who conducted a search of Mission Hill, Boston, a mostly black area. Carol died later that night; the baby, delivered by caesarean section, died 17 days later.
Stuart picked out Willie Bennett, a black man, from a photo lineup. The police shifted their attention onto Stuart when Stuart's brother Matthew told them that Stuart had committed the murder, and when they noted inconsistencies in Stuart's account. On January 4, 1990, Stuart committed suicide. The police later learned that Stuart had committed the murder to cash in on his wife's insurance policy.
In 1992, Jesse Anderson became infamous for stabbing his wife Barbara E. Anderson thirty-seven times while in the parking lot of a T.G.I. Friday's in Milwaukee. Anderson blamed two African-American men for attacking him and his wife, and even presented police with a Los Angeles Clippers basketball cap he claimed to have knocked off the head of one of the assailants.
When details of the crime were made public, a university student told police Anderson had purchased the hat from him a few days earlier. According to employees at a military surplus store, the red-handled fishing knife which was used to murder Barbara was sold to Anderson only a few weeks earlier. Police stated that the store was the only one in Milwaukee that sold that type of knife. Anderson was shortly thereafter charged with murder, found guilty, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
In October 1994, in South Carolina, Susan Smith drowned her sons by putting them in her car and letting it roll into John D. Long Lake. She called the police and stated that an armed black man had hijacked her car with her two sons inside. After an extensive manhunt, Smith confessed that she had killed her sons, and, in July 1995, was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Duke lacrosse case
The Duke lacrosse case was a criminal investigation into a 2006 false accusation of rape made against three members of the men's lacrosse team at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina by Crystal Mangum, an African American student at North Carolina Central University who worked as a stripper, dancer and escort.
Ashley Todd mugging hoax
In October 2008, Ashley Todd, a volunteer for the U.S. presidential campaign of Republican John McCain, falsely claimed to have been the victim of robbery and politically motivated physical assault by a supporter of McCain's Democratic opponent Barack Obama.
The story broke less than two weeks before the 2008 United States presidential election on November 4. Todd later confessed to inventing the story after surveillance photos and a polygraph test were presented. She was charged with filing a false police report, and entered a probation program for first-time offenders.
State University of New York at Albany bus attack hoax
In January 2016, two black and one Hispanic female University at Albany (SUNY) students (Alexis Briggs, Asha Burwell and Ariel Agudio) gained national attention when they accused 10 to 12 white men and women of harassment and assault and that "racial slurs were used by the perpetrators" while riding a public CDTA bus.
The hoax triggered campus protests. The three were eventually indicted by a grand jury and arraigned for "10 misdemeanor charges, including assault, attempted assault and false reporting, along with a violation for harassment." Furthermore, the university expelled Agudio and Burwell and suspended Briggs for two years.
Agudio and Burwell faced up to two years in jail for false reporting conviction but were sentenced to three years' probation, 200 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine when they were found guilty of two charges out of the original eleven. Briggs accepted a plea deal from the district attorney's office of community service in exchange for a public apology.
Officer Sherry Hall shooting hoax
In September 2016, Georgia police officer Sherry Hall claimed "a 6-foot, 230-pound African American man" had shot her, and that only her protective vest saved her life. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation determined that she fabricated the whole incident and charged her with four felonies, including evidence tampering and giving false statements to investigators. Hall was convicted of 11 criminal charges, including "making false statements, violating her oath and tampering with evidence," and sentenced to 15 years in prison and 23 years on probation.
Maria Daly BLM burglary hoax
In October 2016, Maria Daly, the wife of a police officer, reported a burglary at her family home. She stated that jewelry and money had been stolen, and that her house was tagged with graffiti referencing the Black Lives Matter movement. Police determined that the entire account was false, and charged Daly with filing a false police report and misleading a police investigation. Daly eventually pleaded guilty, essentially confirming that she had staged the burglary and spray-painted the house herself.
Walker Daugherty illegal immigrant shooting hoax
In January 2017, hunting guide Walker Daugherty and his client Edwin Roberts were both shot near the Texas-Mexico border. Daugherty and his fellow guide, Michael Bryant, told authorities that they were attacked by immigrants who had entered the country illegally and tried to steal an RV. All the bullet casings and projectiles found on the scene, however, matched guns belonging to the hunting party. Investigation determined that Daugherty shot Roberts and Bryant shot Daugherty. A grand jury indicted Bryant and Daugherty on charges of "using deadly conduct by discharging firearms in the direction of others," a felony. Roberts and his wife subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against Bryant, Daugherty, and their business seeking $1 million in damages for negligence.
Dreadlock cutting hoax
A black middle school student, Amari Allen, claimed that three male white classmates pinned her down on the playground and cut off "chunks" of her dreadlocks. According to Allen, the boys called her "ugly" and her hair "nappy". Her grandmother asked on national TV for the boys to be dismissed from the school. However, security camera footage did not corroborate her story and eventually Allen confessed that she had cut her hair herself.
Jason Stokes BLM arson
In August 2016, former firefighter Jason Stokes claimed that the Black Lives Matter movement had set fire to his home and written "lie with pigs, fry like bacon" on the wall in retaliation for his "Blue Lives Matter" banner. Police charged Stokes with arson, concluding that he had set the fire himself and written the offending message to cover up the crime, and had also booby-trapped the house to hinder investigation. A jury acquitted Stokes on May 15, 2017, agreeing that it was arson but not finding "enough evidence to convict Stokes."
Jussie Smollett alleged assault
In 2019, Jussie Smollett, an American actor and singer on the Fox drama series Empire, made national news for claiming he was the victim of a racially-motivated attack. On January, 22, a letter arrived at the Chicago studio of Smollett's employer that was addressed to Smollett and depicted a stick figure hanging from a tree with a gun pointing towards it. It read "Smollett, Jussie you will die" and "MAGA" and contained a white powder determined to be Tylenol. On January 29, 2019, Smollett told police that he was attacked in the early morning of that day in the 300 block of East Lower North Water Street in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood by two men in ski masks who called him racial and homophobic slurs in what was initially investigated as a hate crime. Smollett was indicted on February 20, 2019, for disorderly conduct consisting of allegedly paying two Nigerian-American brothers to stage a fake hate crime assault on him and filing a false police report. Smollett's defense team reached a deal with prosecutors on March 26, 2019, in which all charges were dropped in return for Smollett performing community service and forfeiting his $10,000 bond. On March 27, 2019, it was announced that the FBI would be investigating as to why the charges were dismissed.
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It's unclear exactly what prompts people to commit these hoaxes, stunts and false reports. But such revelations have become a major concern for civil rights activists who document racist and anti-Semitic incidents, particularly amid a rise in reported hate crimes since the election.
- Simpson and Agnew, p. 5.
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In 2006, Mangum, then a North Carolina Central University student earning money as a stripper, said that three Duke lacrosse players raped her
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The women grabbed national headlines
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We woke up to not only our house being robbed while we were sleeping, but to see this hatred for no reason.
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