Racial hoax

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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".[1]

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.[1]


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.[2]

Russell-Brown argues that racial hoaxes are devised, perpetrated, and successful because they take advantage of fears and stereotypes.[3] According to her, white-on-black hoaxes are the most likely to receive media attention and to cause social and economics problems.[1] She argues that anyone performing a racial hoax should face criminal charges, particularly if a black person is targeted,[4] and that hoaxes targeting black people create more severe problems than those against other racial groups.[3] 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.[5] Sally S. Simpson and Robert Agnew suggest that the unusual nature of some racial hoaxes can cause them to be dismissed.[6]

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.[7] 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.[3] 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.[8] 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".[9]

An alternative type of hoax is when a member of a disadvantaged group pretends to be a victim of a hate crime, either to raise public awareness of hate or to distract attention from their own misconduct in another activity.[10]

In the United States there has been little legal response to racial hoaxes.[11] Russel-Brown wrote that (at the time of the book written) only New Jersey considered legislation to criminalize racial hoaxes.[12]


Jesse Anderson[edit]

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.[13]

Charles Stuart[edit]

The case of Charles Stuart is often cited as an example of a racial hoax.[1][14] On 23 October 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 4 January 1990, Stuart committed suicide. The police later learned that Stuart had committed the murder to cash in on his wife's insurance policy.[1][15]

Susan Smith[edit]

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.[16][17][18]

Tawana Brawley[edit]

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.[19]

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.[20] 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.[21]

Duke lacrosse case[edit]

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[22][23] who worked as a stripper,[24] dancer and escort.[25]

Many people involved in, or commenting on the case, including Durham prosecutor Mike Nifong (who was later disbarred), called or suggested that the alleged assault was a hate crime.[26][27][28]

Ashley Todd mugging hoax[edit]

In October 2008, Ashley Todd, a volunteer for the U.S. presidential campaign of Republican John McCain,[29] falsely claimed to have been the victim of robbery and politically motivated physical assault by a supporter of McCain's Democratic opponent Barack Obama.[30]

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[edit]

In January 2016, two black and one Hispanic female University at Albany (SUNY) students (Alexis Briggs, Asha Burwell and Ariel Agudio) gained national attention[31][32] when they accused 10 to 12 white men and women of harassment and assault and that "racial slurs were used by the perpetrators"[33] while riding a public CDTA bus.

The hoax triggered campus protests.[34] 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.[35]

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.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Russell-Brown, p. 70.
  2. ^ Greene, Helen Taylor; Gabbidon, Shaun L. (2009). Encyclopedia of Race and Crime (volume 1). SAGE Publications. p. 166; ISBN 978-1-4129-5085-5
  3. ^ a b c Russell-Brown, p. 71.
  4. ^ Russell-Brown, pp. 70–71.
  5. ^ See, p. 13.
  6. ^ Simpson and Agnew, p. 56.
  7. ^ Russell-Brown, pp. 71–76.
  8. ^ Russell-Brown, pp. 77–78.
  9. ^ Russell-Brown, pg. 79.
  10. ^ Schmidt, Samantha (8 November 2017). "Racist messages at Air Force Academy were written by student who claimed to be targeted". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 8 November 2017. 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.
  11. ^ Simpson and Agnew, p. 5.
  12. ^ Russell-Brown, pg. 70.
  13. ^ Once A Victim, Now A Suspect, ChicagoTribune.com; accessed 16 June 2016.
  14. ^ Henry and Lanier, p. 158.
  15. ^ Willis, Jim (2010). 100 Media Moments That Changed America, ABC-CLIO. pp. 146–47; ISBN 978-0-313-35517-2
  16. ^ Russell-Brown, p. 69.
  17. ^ Markovitz, p. 85.
  18. ^ Dance, Lory Janelle (2002). Tough Fronts: The Impact of Street Culture on Schooling, Routledge. pg. 132; ISBN 0-415-93300-5
  19. ^ Edwin Diamond. The Media Show: The Changing Face of the News, 1985-1990, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1991. Quote: "The great paradox of Brawley 2 was that this dumb show went on for months, encouraged by the authorities and the media. The "white power structure" —as Sharpton calls it — all but propped up the advisers' shaky scenarios. The governor and the attorney general, their eyes on electoral politics as well as the case, gave the appearance of trying to avoid offense to any constituency, black or white."
  20. ^ "Court TV". Courttv.com. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
  21. ^ "Pagones v. Maddox et. al". Nycourts.gov. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
  22. ^ "Crystal Gail Mangum: Profile of the Duke Rape Accuser" Fox News, April 11, 2007.
  23. ^ Katz, Neil (February 18, 2010). "Crystal Mangum, Stripper Who Falsely Accused Duke Lacrosse Players, Charged with Attempted Murder". CBS News. CBS. Retrieved May 6, 2010. In 2006, Mangum, then a North Carolina Central University student earning money as a stripper, said that three Duke lacrosse players raped her
  24. ^ Siemaszko, Corky (February 18, 2010). "Crystal Gail Mangum, stripper in Duke lacrosse rape case, charged with arson and attempted murder". nydailynews.com. New York. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  25. ^ Alexandria Harper, "Woman behind Duke lacrosse scandal speaks out", The A&T Register, April 28, 2008 Archived 2009-05-16 Archived July 23, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  26. ^ Melissa McNamara (March 30, 2006). "DA Stands Behind Duke Rape Charge – The Early Show". CBS News. Retrieved April 16, 2010.
  27. ^ Nancy Grace: Was Young Woman Assaulted by Duke Lacrosse Team?, cnn.com, March 31, 2006.
  28. ^ "'Rita Cosby Live & Direct'". MSNBC. April 11, 2006. Retrieved June 16, 2016.
  29. ^ "John McCain volunteer admits mugging story is lie". Boston Herald. Pittsburgh, USA. October 25, 2008. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
  30. ^ "McCain Campaign Volunteer Admits Alleged Attack Was a Hoax". Fox News. 2008-10-24. Retrieved 2008-10-26.
  31. ^ "UAlbany women who claimed bus attack kicked out of school". Times Union. Their accusations gained national attention, but they have since been charged for making the story up and in fact starting the fight.
  32. ^ Chasmar, Jessica (May 6, 2016). "UAlbany expels students indicted in hate crime hoax". Washington Times. Retrieved May 8, 2016. The women grabbed national headlines
  33. ^ Helsel, Phil (May 5, 2016). "University Expels 2, Suspends 1 Accused of Lying About 'Racial Attack'". NBC News. Retrieved May 8, 2016. The women, who are African American, claimed they were harassed and assaulted by 10 to 12 white men and women on a city bus just after 1 a.m. on Jan. 30 and that racial slurs were used by the perpetrators.
  34. ^ Wilkinson, James (May 6, 2016). "Two SUNY Albany students are expelled after being indicted for 'faking race hate attack' and assault while a third is suspended for two years". The Daily Mail. Retrieved May 8, 2016. The women's initial report of the incident led to national outrage, a massive campus rally
  35. ^ "College students punished after claiming racial attack". Cbsnews.com. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
  36. ^ "Expelled UAlbany students get probation inhate crime case". Timesunion.com. Retrieved 19 January 2018.