We keep cycling through the same macabre Groundhog's Day events of learning of an egregious police shooting. Then protesting. Then simmering down. Then learning of yet another death. But perhaps the most ridiculous police-involved shooting in September shed no actual blood.
Sherry Hall, a White female police officer from Jackson, GA, claimed a Black man shot her and then galloped into the woods. Without her bulletproof vest, she swore she would’ve been a goner. The horrified, usually crime-free city of Jackson left no stone unturned. They stormed through the forest to defend the virtue and honor of the assaulted White lady cop. Her daughter even went on television and begged the unknown gunman to turn himself in.
Well, as it turns out, Officer Becky made the whole thing up. Authorities discovered she likely shot herself. Her tall tale unraveled less than two weeks after she conjured up the image of a wild, 6’1”, 230-lb Black boogeyman on the loose. She’s since checked herself into a facility for treatment. Her fellow officers will arrest her the moment she leaves the facility.
Thankfully, no Black men died as a result of her fraud, but the lie still wasn’t a victimless crime.
University of Florida law professor Katheryn Russell-Brown coined the term “racial hoax” in 1998 to denote a false reporting of a crime based on another person’s race. Overwhelmingly, Black males are the primary victims of racial hoaxes in America. Someone commits a crime or desires attention and decides the perfect person to blame is a big, Black dude. It’s happened over and over since slavery.
Each time I hear of a White woman inventing crimes perpetrated by an imaginary Black man, I think of Susan Smith. In case you don’t know or forgot, Smith lied in 1994 that a Black man kidnapped her two sons. She had actually driven her car into a lake and drowned the boys.
As with Officer Becky, it only took the police a little over a week to discover that Smith was lying. This tells me one thing: the story of a “big, black man” never has to be well thought-out. All the lie needs is the right person to sell it.
But Black people have a keen nose for bullshit. In Smith’s case, Black folks cocked their heads and wondered what sane Black man would steal two White kids who aren’t his? What brother argues with a lady cop (Officer Becky), shoots her, and then runs into the woods? What Black man carves a backward B into a White woman’s face after a mugging to make her vote for Obama? No one who exists.
The racist imagination not only transforms Black men into monsters, but it also makes their actions seem inscrutable. The boogeyman has no logic; it’s not human. The public readily accepts strange fiction surrounding Black men because it believes the big, bad boogeyman is capable of anything. People will mobilize without question to hunt down the boogeyman. People will shoot an unarmed teenager and say they saw a demon.
The danger in Officer Becky’s fraud becomes most apparent when the police do find someone who “fits the description” or who resembles the boogeyman lurking in their racist imagination. It’s what makes Stop and Frisk sound like a picnic. How many Black men get mistaken for the boogeyman? The belief in Black male inhumanity kills Black men weekly. Terence Crutcher looked like a “big, bad dude” to a police officer all the way up in a helicopter. Police pulled Philando Castile over because he “matched” a suspect with a “wide-set nose.” Darren Wilson described Michael Brown as Hulk Hogan.
It’s no coincidence Sherry Hall (Officer Becky) would pull a stunt like this while the country suffers from heightened unrest between cops and Black communities. Her easy reach for the shadowy Black male boogeyman is not a mental health issue: it’s symptomatic of American racism. She exploited a fear White America yet refuses to admit it harbors. And as long they imagine Black (boogey)men looming larger than life, they will always find a reason to hunt or shoot brothers to death.
Dara T. Mathis is a freelance writer newly based in the DMV and the sweet & snark behind TrulyTafakari.com. She tweets for the love of biscuits.