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David Griffith

David Griffith

David Griffith has been editor of POLICE Magazine since December 2001. He brings more than 25 years of experience on magazines and newspapers to POLICE. A Maggie award-winning journalist, his byline has appeared on hundreds of articles in POLICE and other national magazines.



Melanie Basich

Melanie Basich

Managing Editor Melanie Basich joined POLICE Magazine in 2000 (when her last name was still Hamilton). An award-winning journalist, she has covered such topics as agency budgets, officer suicide, emerging law enforcement technologies, and active shooter tactics. She writes and manages the product section of POLICE.
Editor's Notes

There Should Be a Special Punishment for This Crime

May 29, 2009  |  by - Also by this author

One of the greatest fears of many people in modern America is to be randomly kidnapped as they go about their daily business. It’s a crime that happens as often as a total solar eclipse, but its been depicted so often in so many films and TV shows that the horror of it is very real for many people.

That’s why this week when they heard the news report that a Philadelphia-area woman and her nine-year-old daughter had been snatched after a traffic accident a chill went up the spine of many Americans. Bonnie Sweeten told 911 operators that she was calling from the trunk of a Cadillac and that she and her daughter had been abducted by two black men in broad daylight from a street in suburban Bucks County. Sweeten was arrested the next day in a hotel in Orlando after she returned from a day at Walt Disney World.

Bucks County 911 dispatchers described Sweeten’s calls for help as “chilling.” Local police and the FBI immediately launched an investigation. An Amber Alert was issued. And the nation held its breath as it worried about this mother and child kidnapped by “evil black men.”

But from the beginning, the story had some serious holes. For example, if you were kidnapping somebody in this day and age, wouldn’t you take away his or her cell phone? That question must have nagged the investigators as they frantically searched for the victims.

Then the story truly started to fall apart. Police found Sweeten’s Yukon Denali SUV—the one that she claimed had been rammed by her kidnappers—and there was no body damage. They also learned that the cell phone calls were routed through towers far away from where Sweeten said she had been kidnapped. Finally, an airport surveillance camera recorded Sweeten buying a ticket for her and her daughter to Orlando.

Police staked out the Disney complex after learning of the alleged identity switch and confirming through airport security video that mother and daughter had boarded the Orlando flight. Concerned about the girl's safety, they waited at the hotel for them to return Wednesday night.

If official reports on this case are true, then Sweeten’s offenses are truly heinous. Let’s start local and then expand nationwide to list the victims of her alleged scheme.

• First, there’s her husband. Can you imagine what this guy went through thinking that his wife and step-daughter were kidnapped? You don't have to:

• Victim number two is her ex-husband. Maybe he still had feelings for his ex-wife. One thing is certain he was distraught over his daughter being snatched.

A weeping Tony Rakoczy said in an interview Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show, "There's no reason why they would keep them. We don't have money. I don't understand."

• I’m not sure how to characterize this one. But victim number three is Sweeten’s other children. Her eight-month-old daughter Faith was left at daycare. Her 15-year-old daughter with her ex-husband must have also been worried sick about her mom and sister.

• Now let’s talk about the police and FBI and all of the other public safety professionals that she essentially sent on a wild goose chase. When they thought this crime was real, they gave it everything they had to bring this woman back safely. They put in long hours and didn’t get home to their own families as they frantically looked for Sweeten and her daughter.

• OK. What about the victims of the crimes that these officers and agents should have been investigating. They, too, were damaged by Sweeten’s alleged actions.

• Going nationwide, this hoax confirmed the fears of many people that America’s streets are not safe, even for people who are just going about their daily lives. People need to be aware that crimes happen and they can be victims. But they don’t need to be paranoid.

• Finally, there’s a special class of victims in this case. If Sweeten really did file a false police report saying that she and her daughter were kidnapped by two black men, then she victimized by my estimation at least six percent of the American population, every black male.

And black men already have enough crosses to bear. They are more likely to be murdered than anyone else in this country. They are more likely to be incarcerated than anyone else in this country. And they are more likely to be discriminated against than anyone else in this country. Are some of these statistics the result of bad choices and irresponsible behavior by some black men? Absolutely. But every black man suffers from society’s perception of black men as violent. False accusations like those allegedly made by Sweeten perpetuate this stereotype.

Of course this demonization of the black man by white lies is nothing new. Undoubtedly, it dates to the earliest days of this country. It runs like a river of blood through the time in this country when a black man could be lynched on the false accusation of a white victim. And it continues to this day.

Sweeten is also not the first white woman in contemporary America to claim that evil black demons emerged from the mist and stole her babies.

Back in 1994, a particularly reprehensible woman named Susan Smith used the lie that black men had carjacked her and taken her children to hide the fact that she had murdered them herself. Nine days later she admitted to locking the kids in her car and rolling it into a lake near her home of Union, S.C. She drowned her babies because the man she was having an affair with didn’t want to have an instant family. She has never explained why she thought murdering her two very young sons was better than just divorcing their father and letting him have custody.

Susan Smith was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison for two counts of murder. Personally, I was hoping that the jury would have given her the needle but as a friend of mine who reported on the case once told me: “A South Carolina jury was not going to give the death penalty to a young, attractive white woman.” And unfortunately his prediction held true. So Susan Smith is eligible for parole in 2024. (By the way if you ever need an argument for why the death penalty is a better punishment for heinous murder than life in prison, go here and view Susan Smith’s personal ad. It will make you want to upchuck.)

Bonnie Sweeten is not charged with murdering anyone. In fact, all she faces are two misdemeanor charges: filing a false report and identity theft. However, according to reports in the Philly papers, she may soon be booked for grand theft.

But I believe Bonnie Sweeten and Susan Smith should have to face a very special charge: Inciting racial hatred and distrust. I’m not sure what the penalty should be. Maybe if convicted of that special charge she should be forced to apologize face to face to every black male in the country. Obviously, that would be a life sentence.

Oh, and don’t think I’m letting black people who commit the same crime off the hook. The Rev. Al Sharpton should certainly face this charge for his role in the Tawana Brawley case as should Brawley herself. They should be required to apologize face to face to every cop in America.

In the Sweeten case, in the Smith case, in the Brawley case, justice will likely never be done on this Earth. But that doesn’t mean I believe they will get away with it. You see, I believe God reserves a special place in hell for those who make false accusations against their fellow man. And I hope it’s really hot for those who slander an entire race, class, sex, or profession.


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