MADISON, Wis. — Police in Wisconsin are investigating the alleged assault of an 18-year-old Black woman as a possible hate crime after she told police that four white men sprayed her with lighter fluid and set her on fire, reported WISC-TV
“It’s sad some of the things we are seeing in our own community and in this country right now,” said Michael Johnson, a family spokesman.
Althea Bernstein said she was driving with her driver’s side window down Wednesday morning when the men drove up to her and yelled racial slurs at her.
She said the men sprayed her with what hospital staff believed to be lighter fluid and threw a flaming lighter at her, according to a report filed with the Madison Police Department.
Bernstein drove home and later sought treatment at a hospital, the report said. She’s recovering from second- and third-degree burns.
Bernstein’s family said in a statement: “Our family is saddened at what happened to Althea and the unprovoked attack on her body.”
Interim Police Chief Victor Wahl said several officers and detectives are looking into the case, including reviewing surveillance video.
“Obviously, it’s a high priority for the department, and we are going to put a lot of resources into doing a thorough investigation and trying to identify the people that were involved so we can take appropriate action,” Wahl said.
He added the men involved could face possible charges of a hate crime, attempted homicide and recklessly endangering safety.
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in a statement that the incident was “horrifying and absolutely unacceptable.”
She said she spoke with the Bernstein family, “expressing my deep sympathies for the harm this incident has caused, my wishes for her healing, and my commitment to do all I can to bring justice.”
Said Johnson: “It’s unacceptable, like where’s the respect for humanity? I hope the police apprehend these individuals. We live in a time in America that we should be showing empathy and love.”