A Black woman named Althea Bernstein is being treated for second and third degree burns after she says a group of men in floral shirts approached her vehicle while she was stopped at a red light, called her the N-word, sprayed her face with lighter fluid, and threw a lit lighter at her.
As police investigate the incident, which by the victim's description sounds like it could be tied to Boogaloo Boys, naysayers online are predictably calling the violent attack on Althea a hoax or accusing the victim of being another "Jussie Smollett." Thankfully, police seem to be taking the incident seriously.
Police are investigating the attack on Althea Bernstein as a hate crime.
According to the 18-year-old EMT, who is studying to become a paramedic and firefighter, she was on her way to visit her brother at around 1 a.m. when she was stopped at a red light with her driver's side window open. When she heard someone shout the racial epithet, Althea, who is a Black biracial woman, looked to see who had uttered the slur.
“I turned my head to look and somebody’s throwing lighter fluid on me," Bernstein told local nonprofit news outlet Madison365. "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." Eventually Bernstein was able to put out the flames, "and then I just blasted through the red light … I just felt like I needed to get away. So I drove through the red light and just kept driving until I got to my brother and Middleton.”
The young woman says she was likely in shock as she drove from the scene to safety. "I’ve had patients in shock and I know what shock is based on the textbook,” she said. “It’s so incapacitating, you don’t even realize what’s going on. My brain still got me home and my brain still got me to call my mom. I just remember my face was bleeding.”
Bernstein was treated at UW Medical Center for second and third degree burns. She will need to return for more debridement and cleaning and may require plastic surgery to address the scars she is likely to sustain. "They had to pretty much scrub the skin off, which was extremely painful,” she said. “Burn pain is something I can’t even really describe. I don’t know how to describe it. It was horrible.”
Though naysayers claim Althea Bernstein's incident is a hoax, the pictures of her injuries seem to refute that.
As always seems to be the case when a hate crime is reported, many people online have speculated Althea's attack is a hoax, but photos of her injuries seem very consistent with her report. The burns she sustained are concentrated on the left side of her face, which would have faced the open window of her car.
Police are investigating the scene where she says the attack took place in hopes of finding surveillance cameras in the area that may have captured footage of the attack.
Though a GoFundMe was set up, it was not done by Althea Bernstein or family.
Though there is a GoFundMe for “medical and legal expenses, if they choose to,” the fundraiser was not authorized or initiated by the family, and Althea has said, instead of trying to give her money, people should "sign the petitions. Support the movement. Support Black lives.”
Madison police will be aided by the FBI in their investigation according to Madison Police spokesperson Joel Despain. As many have speculated online, the fact that Althea reported two of the four men were wearing floral shirts has many concerned the attack was carried out by Boogaloo Boys. Though not an organized movement, many who identify as Boogaloo Boys seek to foment racial discord to bring about a second American Civil War.