Commentary: Prison for a Woman Who Lied About Black Kidnapper

Bonnie Sweeten, who falsely told police a Black man had abducted her and her daughter in 2009, is finally going to jail. In an historical context, that's definitely a small step forward.

Posted: 01/31/2012 09:52 AM EST

(Photo: AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

For literally hundreds of years now, white women have falsely accused Black men for crimes they didn’t commit. It happened frequently at the turn of the 20th century. It happened in 1991, when South Carolina mother Susan Smith told police a Black man had kidnapped her children — the truth was that she had murdered her two sons by drowning them.

More recently, in 2009, Bonnie Sweeten telephoned police officers to tell them that a Black man in a truck had kidnapped her and her young daughter, when in actuality Sweeten had simply taken her daughter to Disney World for a vacation. Sweeten had also embezzled or stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from her family, friends and employer. Last week, she was sentenced to more than eight years in prison.

More than 100 years after lynch mobs first started slaughtering Blacks, many of them young men for crimes they never committed, the Sweeten case puts into stark relief how things have changed. Not so very long ago, were a white woman to accuse a Black man of attacking her and her young child, chances are a bloodthirsty posse with they're mind set on murder would scour the area for a Black man — any Black man, really — to execute. Today, not only has no man been put into custody for Sweeten, Sweeten herself is going away to jail for a long time. “You've done great wrong,” said the judge sentencing Sweeten, “and you have to pay the price.”

It’s a bit depressing to celebrate the fact that liars are no longer getting away with the widespread torture and murder of innocent Black people, but the fact is that that was a reality for many African-Americans until as recently as the 1960s. As we enter Black History Month in February, let’s find a victory — albeit a minor one — in Sweeten’s imprisonment.

The next battle is the one we must wage against whites lying about Black criminals in the first place. That one will probably be a harder fight.

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