Wisconsin woman sprayed with lighter fluid, burned by lighter in suspected hate crime: police
It’s been one month since Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd, and in some ways, it feels like the Black Lives Matter movement is receding from the headlines. A horrifying attack on a Black teenage girl is enough to remind us that racially motivated violence has gone nowhere, however. Althea Bernstein, an 18-year-old EMT and student, was driving her car in Madison, Wis., on Wednesday, when a group of white men lit her face on fire.
“I was listening to some music at a stoplight and then all of a sudden I heard someone yell the N-word really loud,” she said in an interview, according to Madison365. “I turned my head to look and somebody’s throwing lighter fluid on me. And then they threw a lighter at me, and my neck caught on fire and I tried to put it out, but I brushed it up onto my face.”
It was around 1 in the morning, and she was driving to her brother’s house. Black Lives Matter protests had been going on in the city with renewed energy after the arrest of an activist, Yeshua Musa, Madison365 reported, though Bernstein said she hadn’t been participating in them.
She said her attackers were four white men.
“Two of them were wearing all black, and then the other two were wearing jeans and a floral shirt,” she told the site. That’s significant, as right-wing counter-protesters have been wearing Hawaiian shirts, a symbol of the white nationalist “boogaloo” movement. Police are looking into whether there is surveillance footage of the attack.
Bernstein said she experienced “textbook” shock as she was able to put out the fire, drive through a red light, and continue straight on to her brother’s house, not yet feeling the pain in her face. She then drove herself to the hospital.
“They had to pretty much scrub the skin off, which was extremely painful,” she told Madison365. “Burn pain is something I can’t even really describe. I don’t know how to describe it. It was horrible.”
She may need to have plastic surgery to repair the damage those men did to her face.
“It’s totally unacceptable given everything that is going on this country,” Michael Johnson, the CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, told Buzzfeed News, speaking on behalf of the Bernstein family. “It’s just unacceptable behavior that we’re just not going to tolerate.”
If you have seen any GoFundMe pages set up for Bernstein, be aware that they are not authorized. Bernstein said that at this time she doesn’t need financial support and has adequate health insurance.
In this undated photo provided by the family of Althea Bernstein shows the burns on Bernstein’s face an neck after four white men sprayed her with lighter fluid and threw a lighter at her, setting her on fire as she was driving in downtown Madison, Wis., during protests that she was not a part of early Wednesday, June 24, 2020. Bernstein, who is studying to become an paramedic, drove away and patted out the flames. She visited an emergency room later that night, where she said health care workers had to scrub her skin off. She said she will eventually need plastic surgery. Authorities as investigating the incident as a hate crime.
Althea Bernstein told ABC’s “Good Morning America” for a Friday segment that she hasn’t slept and doesn’t have an appetite. But she called the attack in the state’s capital city of Madison a “learning opportunity” for her attackers.
“I’m very, very hopeful that these men sort of see all the responses and that they know that they hurt me and that this is something that’s going to affect me for a while,” she said. “And I really hope that they choose to improve themselves.”