OPINION | Hate crime hoaxes: The harm done is all too real

Graffiti that included the word "Trump" and a swastika, as well as slurs directed toward gays, blacks and Hispanics, was found the morning of Nov. 22, 2016, at Gwinnett's Collins Hill High School. (Photo credit: Channel 2 Action News)

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

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Graffiti that included the word "Trump" and a swastika, as well as slurs directed toward gays, blacks and Hispanics, was found the morning of Nov. 22, 2016, at Gwinnett's Collins Hill High School. (Photo credit: Channel 2 Action News)

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Starting in December and then several times earlier this year, Black residents in a Douglasville subdivision started getting strange and worrisome notes purportedly from a white Klansman threatening to kill them and burn down their homes.

The menacing author described himself as a 6-foot-tall man with a long, red beard. This was mighty odd, to say the least. Klansmen aren’t noted for being brainiacs, but even the most dimwitted white supremacist would be wary of giving out that kind of identifying information.

In August, there were reports of a vandalism and racial terrorism at the Emory Autism Center in Atlanta. Racial slurs were written on walls near the desks of a couple of African American women and a swastika was scrawled in a hallway near a Jewish man’s office.

The incidents made the news as examples of racism and anti-Semitism run amok during these angry and divided times.

Then, in recent weeks came the rest of the story.

In Douglasville, police arrested Terresha Lucas, a 30-year-old woman who lives in that neighborhood. She is Black.

In the Emory case, police fairly quickly closed in on Roy Lee Gordon Jr., a former part-time employee at Emory. He was arrested and charged with second-degree burglary. He, too, was Black.

The reasons for their alleged actions are not yet known. I couldn’t reach either one. Maybe the woman wanted to stir things up in her racially mixed neighborhood. Perhaps the Emory thing was a disgruntled ex-employee wanting to toss a stink bomb into the lap of his former employer. You remember how micro-aggressed the Emory campus got five years ago when someone chalked pro-Trump verbiage on the sidewalks there. Imagine what a swastika and some N-words would do.

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A serial chalker in support of Trump has Emory University up in arms. Photo by Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

A serial chalker in support of Trump has Emory University up in arms. Photo by Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

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A serial chalker in support of Trump has Emory University up in arms. Photo by Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

These two arrests occurred about the time a similar incident in the St. Louis area came to light. There, high school students walked out in protest after racial graffiti was written in several bathrooms. That, too, turned out to be the work of an African American student.

It turns out such incidents are not uncommon, according to Wilfred Reilly, a political science professor at Kentucky State University, a historically Black institution. A couple of years ago, he published a book called “Hate Crime Hoax” after he researched hundreds of hate crimes and incidents that made the news and found that more than 400 of them turned out to be faked.

Reilly’s book had the good fortune of being released the same time as the Jussie Smollett fiasco, the mother of all hoaxes. In that case, Smollett, an actor, claimed he got thumped at 2 a.m. in sub-zero Chicago temperatures by a couple of MAGA goons who slipped a noose around his neck while shouting slurs at him. The “attack,” while initially drawing wide and intense consternation, drew an immediate side-eye from those with half a lick of common sense. Smollett is set to go on trial next month on charges of disorderly conduct.

“The reality is, in politics, especially on the left side, there is an advantage to claiming victimhood,” Reilly said. The Rev. Al Sharpton sure knows that, having launched a nice career off the Tawana Brawley rape hoax of the late 1980s.

In our discussion, Reilly mentioned Erica Thomas, a Democratic state representative from Cobb County, who caused a stir in 2019 after she was accosted by a fellow grocery shopper irked by her abuse of the 10-items-or-less express line. They exchanged angry words and she later posted on Facebook: “Today I was verbally assaulted in the grocery store by a white man who told me I was a lazy SOB and to go back to where I came from.”

Her post went international and she demanded the man be arrested. “We have to make an example out of this man,” she said.

Well, it turns out the police report quoted a store manager telling them that Thomas, not the man, was the one continually saying, “Go back where you came from!”

Whoops.

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A dispute between state Rep. Erica Thomas and Eric Sparkes at the Mableton Publix has launched many a debate in social media. Opinions haven’t changed much even as more facts about the encounter surface. (Credit: WSB-TV image)

A dispute between state Rep. Erica Thomas and Eric Sparkes at the Mableton Publix has launched many a debate in social media. Opinions haven’t changed much even as more facts about the encounter surface. (Credit: WSB-TV image)

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A dispute between state Rep. Erica Thomas and Eric Sparkes at the Mableton Publix has launched many a debate in social media. Opinions haven’t changed much even as more facts about the encounter surface. (Credit: WSB-TV image)

”Usually when this happens, there’s a conversation about some issues like racism or homophobia,” Reilly said. “The people doing this are trying to create an impression a lot more of it is going on.”

There is plenty going on, but apparently not enough for some people. The feds say there were 7,554 reported hate crimes in the U.S. last year, an increase of 6% from the pervious year. There are surely many more hate crimes that go uncounted or unreported. But, it also should be noted that there are 330 million Americans.

Reilly estimates perhaps 15% of reported bias or hate incidents are faked. The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino estimates it is less than 1%.

I asked Douglasville Police Chief Gary Sparks about why the woman who was arrested might have distributed the Ku Klux Klan threats.

“I couldn’t tell you why her mindset was to throw that kind of discourse in the community,” Sparks said, adding that they had to take the threats seriously. “A few residents were concerned and were thinking about how to protect themselves.”

Guns come to mind.

My thought is that some who perpetuate false cases of bias are like the pyromaniacs who start fires and then quietly return to the scene to watch firefighters extinguish the blaze.

Hate crime hoaxes are often grabbed by those on the right to claim that those on the other side of the political divide are making up such incidents to wield as a political weapon. Or to say racism and bigotry are overstated.

Reilly acknowledges the vast majority of reported hate crimes are probably legit. But, he added, even when an incident is determined to have been faked or overstated, those who are initially angered and offended often don’t turn off that outrage.

ExploreOPINION: You think a confessed killer would fear admitting to bigotry?

The St. Louis area school case proved to be a hoax, Reilly said. “But the students are still protesting because this doesn’t matter. They say this shows racism is still occurring — which, in this case, is a conscious denial of the obvious reality,” he said.

This is nothing new. In 1990, an Emory University freshman who was Black went mute and curled up in a fetal position after finding racist graffiti in her dorm. The case drew wide sympathy and media attention. The then-president of the NAACP jumped in and accused Emory of harboring racists. Later, a GBI investigation determined that the student almost assuredly concocted the accusation during the time she was being investigated for cheating on a chemistry exam.

“It doesn’t matter to me whether she did it or not,” the civil rights leader said at the time about the allegedly faked hate crime, “because of all the pressure these Black students are under at these predominantly white schools. If this will highlight it, if it will bring it to the attention of the public, I have no problem with that.”

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A white woman who called police Monday claiming “there’s an African American man threatening my life” has apologized after video emerged of her confrontation with a black bird-watcher who “politely” asked if she could put her dog on a leash. Amy Cooper has been suspended from her job at global investment firm Franklin Templeton after video of the incident in New York’s Central Park on Memorial Day went viral on social media.

Credit: Social media photo

A white woman who called police Monday claiming “there’s an African American man threatening my life” has apologized after video emerged of her confrontation with a black bird-watcher who “politely” asked if she could put her dog on a leash. Amy Cooper has been suspended from her job at global investment firm Franklin Templeton after video of the incident in New York’s Central Park on Memorial Day went viral on social media.

Credit: Social media photo

caption arrowCaption
A white woman who called police Monday claiming “there’s an African American man threatening my life” has apologized after video emerged of her confrontation with a black bird-watcher who “politely” asked if she could put her dog on a leash. Amy Cooper has been suspended from her job at global investment firm Franklin Templeton after video of the incident in New York’s Central Park on Memorial Day went viral on social media.

Credit: Social media photo

Credit: Social media photo

I must point out that the faked calls of bias don’t all flow from one side. There’s the infamous case last year of Amy Cooper, a white woman, calling 911 on a Black man in New York’s Central Park after he asked her to leash her dog. She told him, as he videotaped her, that she was going to tell authorities a Black man was threatening her.

His video went viral and she was roundly criticized and fired from her job at an investment firm. She has since filed a lawsuit against her former employer, saying she is a victim of racial discrimination. Because, remember, there’s currency in victimhood.

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