We have heard this story before. A supposed victim reports to police that their attacker is a Black or Latino male. The police, doing what police are suppose to do, act upon the information and set out to find the culprit. In a matter of time, the “victim” begins to backtrack and police start to suspect that the original story is fiction. Soon, the alleged victim confesses – there was no attack, just a pathetic attempt to hide some personal shortcoming or crime. This scenario has become so common, that it should be a standard lesson taught in police academies across the country.
The latest chapter to this book of deception came this week in New York City when a local television news meteorologist, Heidi Jones of WABC-TV, confessed that her claim that a Hispanic male assaulted her in Central Park was a lie. The television station has suspended Jones. Her excuse? She admitted that she was seeking attention. According to published reports, Jones claims she was under pressure at work, and faced personal and family difficulties. Her explanation fails to explain why she chose to report that a Hispanic male was her alleged attacker. It was a strategic choice on her part. We believe Jones knew well the racial implications of identifying a man of color as the culprit. Living and working in a city that has had more than its share of racial miscues, this woman who works in the media industry understands the underlying symbolism of a white female as victim of an attack by a Hispanic or Black male.
We thought that in the new millennium men of color could escape this type of characterization. After all, the Charles Stuart case in Boston, Susan Smith in South Carolina, and Sam Asbell in New Jersey should have been lessons learned. In each of those cases, the alleged victims concocted their stories to cover their own misdeeds and used Black men as foils, knowing the public perception of African-American males. The police are in a tough predicament in these cases. If they do not take the complaint seriously and are lax in their investigation, if the story pans out, the public will rake law enforcement over hot coals for failing to do their job. At best, we can hope that police will exercise restraint in alleged incidents that are suspicious and Black and Latino men are the suspected culprits. From all that we know at this point, the New York City police did not take extreme measures in trying to locate the attacker. Given Jones’ public profile, we could have witnessed a terrible tragedy had police aggressively pursued this matter and it resulted in an encounter with a “suspect.”
In these cases, the criminal justice system must punish the perpetrator of the hoax to send a message. In this case, Heidi Jones should not receive special treatment because she is a television personality. Nor should the system treat her more harshly because of her professional status. She did not simply make a mistake. Jones consciously used race as a foil to satisfy her personal needs. A simple apology will not suffice nor will a commitment to engage in some sort of “community service.” We believe that a jail sentence is necessary to give her perspective on her crime and to let the public know that these types of fabrications are unacceptable. We are not suggesting Jones should sit in jail for a year. This woman obviously has some issues and needs professional help. However, a reasonable sentence – 30 days – would give her time to think about what she has done. It would also give a measure of justice to Black and Latino men who daily live under the suspicion of wrongdoing.