Unraveling Sweeten's racial stereotyping hoax
PHILADELPHIA - May 28, 2009 (WPVI) -- Why do people make up wild scenarios to make it look like they're victims of crime and why do they often resort to racial stereotypes?
Almost from the beginning, Bonnie Sweeten's alleged abduction story raised suspicions and yet, so incredible, it garnered national attention for most of the week. Forsensic psychiatrists and criminologists say for a while, she managed to create a pretty dramatic diversion.
"You make yourself into a victim; you create a lot of chaos around your victimization. Poor me. My daughter and I were involved in this terrible thing," Dr. Carla Rodgers said.
Yet, in attempting to divert attention from her alleged criminal activity, as law enforcement sources theorize, she chose a busy intersection to stage a carjacking with a lot of witnesses that saw nothing.
Her vehicle was found with no evidence indicating there was an accident, and numerous cameras at Philadelphia International Airport watched her make a dramatic getaway with her unwitting young daughter:
"In their mind, their plan is brilliant. When it falls apart rather quickly is when good skilled investigators start to blend victimology, forensic science, and general good police work," Albert C. DiGiacomo of West Chester University said.
"For them, they're desperate and so their judgment is impaired and they may come up with something that is totally outrageous," forensic psychiatrist Dr. Clarence Watson said.
So often, they borrow from a well worn cliché of the mythical black man as the boogeyman. Sweeten had alleged that she and her daughter had been carjacked by two black men in a Cadillac.
Sweeten's story resembles that of Susan Smith of South Carolina, who in 1994 claimed to have been carjacked by a black man who rode off with her two sons. In truth, she rolled her car into a lake drowning her sons.
Then there was campaign worker Ashley Todd of Pittsburg, who last October claimed to have been robbed and assaulted by a 6'4 black man who carved a "b" for Obama on her face. It wasn't true.
Then, of course, there was Tawana Brawley of New York, who back in 1987, claimed to have been raped by 6 white men, some of whom were police officers. A grand jury later found the story was not true:
"If you're going to make up a villain, it's always easier to demonize the other, somebody who is the opposite of you," Dr. Rodgers said.
"These folks in these situations are usually not career criminals. They're usually unsophisticated; they have not dealt with law enforcement. They have not had to come up with stories in the past," Dr. Watson said.
In the end, as is so often the case, Bonnie Sweeten may have managed to make a bad situation far worse than could ever been imagined. She is now facing serious criminal charges.
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