The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Possible Hate Attack on Black Woman Roils Louisiana Town

By Don Terry on October 23, 2012 - 2:57 pm, Posted in Hate Crime

Update: Late Tuesday afternoon, authorities in Louisiana said Sharmeka Moffitt, a 20-year-old African-American woman, set herself on fire in a park in Winnsboro, La., Sunday night and faked what appeared to be a brutal, racially motivated hate crime. The alleged attack rattled the small city of 5,000 residents, dredging up memories of the state’s racially violent past. Moffitt had told police three men doused her with a flammable liquid and set her ablaze. “It’s been a very disturbing case for everyone involved,’’ the Franklin News quoted Winnsboro Police Chief Lester Thomas as saying at a news conference Tuesday. The authorities said that Moffitt’s fingerprints were on the cigarette lighter and the lighter fluid recovered near the crime scene, adding that a racial slur and the letters KKK that were written in toothpaste on Moffitt’s car were linked to female DNA. “I’m speechless,’’ Winnsboro City Council member Betty Johnson told Hatewatch after hearing the attack was a lie. “You know we will continue to pray for her. She needs a lot of help.’’

The small Louisiana city of Winnsboro was filled with shock, rumors and prayers Tuesday as residents anxiously waited for law enforcement officials to determine who set a 20-year-old African-American woman on fire in a local park Sunday night – and why.

“We’re hoping the police will handle this before it escalates any further,” Betty Johnson, a member of the Winnsboro City Council told Hatewatch Tuesday, adding that “some of the younger people in town” are saying “somebody is going to pay for this.”

“But we don’t know who did it,” Johnson said. “We don’t know for sure what happened.”

Sharmeka Moffitt was found Sunday around 8 p.m. in Civitan Park with burns over more than 50 percent of her body. Scrawled across her car parked nearby in white letters were KKK and the word “Nigger.”

Moffitt reportedly told police that she was attacked by three men wearing white “hoodies” as she jogged through the popular park. They doused her in a flammable liquid and set her ablaze. But she could not be sure what race her assailants were. There have been no arrests.

Badly burned, Moffitt still managed to call 911 and report the attack. She told officers that she put out the fire herself with water from a nearby spigot before they arrived. She was reportedly undergoing surgery Tuesday at a Shreveport hospital and was listed in critical condition.

“Basically all of Winnsboro is in shock,” Craig Gill, another member of the Winnsboro City Council told Hatewatch. “It’s a very nice park, utilized by young and old, black and white. It was a big shock that something like that happened there or anywhere in Winnsboro.”

A prayer vigil was scheduled for Tuesday night at the park.

“The best thing we can do right now is pray for the family and wait for the police,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of confusion and stories going around.”

The NAACP is following the investigation closely. On Tuesday, the civil rights organization urged authorities, including the FBI and the Louisiana State Police, to “fully investigate” the “gang attack” on Moffitt.

“Initial reports of racial animus in the incident are disturbing,” NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a written statement. “We will remain vigilant as we urge authorities to conduct a full investigation into this crime.”

Winnsboro, located about 40 miles from Monroe, La., has about 5,000 residents and is nearly 60 percent African American.

“Winnsboro is one of those very old, rural areas,” Carmen Watkins, the NAACP Louisiana regional director told Hatewatch. “It’s one of those funny little Louisiana towns. People have learned a way to survive in the area, but people hold fast to the old traditional ways of thinking, too.”

In January, in the town of Jonesboro, about 78 miles from Winnsboro, the NAACP held a rally to protest unfair lending practices and lack of jobs. The Aryan Nations held a counter rally several blocks away, television station KNOE 8 reported. “Overall both rallies went off without incident,” the station said on its website, “despite a number of racial slurs from the Aryan Nation toward a nearby group of African American church members.’’

Jonesboro was also the birthplace of the 1960s-era group Deacons of Defense, a band of African-American military veterans who organized to protect civil rights workers and others across the region from the widespread and brutal violence of the Ku Klux Klan.

But City Council member Johnson, who is black, and her colleague, Gill, who is white, agreed that there has been little racial tension in Winnsboro in recent years. Johnson’s ex-husband, Jackie, became Winnsboro’s first black mayor about three years ago.

“I can’t ever remember the Klan being active around here,” Betty Johnson said. “We’ve all gotten along very well. That’s what shocks people so much. There hasn’t been anything that would even remotely make me think something like this could happen. But it did happen.”

  • Kiwiwriter

    As soon as I read this story, I had a bad feeling about it, from years of working with cops, and it turned out I was right, unfortunately.

    Making false claims like this only sets back the struggles to defeat racism and hammer racist acts…their ilk can point to this as an example of reverse race-baiting. I vividly remember the Tawana Brawley case.

    Ms. Moffitt is obviously going through more issues than Time magazine, and was reaching out for help. While she needs some disciplining for false accusations and raising ugly spectres, she also needs help. She should get both.

    I am glad, however, that the local community reacted seriously, and reinforced its opposition to the Klan and racism. That speaks well of the community and its climate.

  • Ron Ceasar

    This is far from over. We have not heard from Ms. Sharmeeka Moffitt. We do not believe anything said thus far due to the history of Louisiana when it comes to race relations. Just because someone believes something happened does not make it so. Not that GULLIBLE!

  • Reynardine

    Extreme dislike is what I would mean by “hate” if I said, “I hate eggs”. I’d mean, “Don’t put them on my plate”. I’d not mean,”I’m going to hunt down every egg in the country and destroy it”. What Aron intended by “extreme dislike” is the former case: we don’t care is you exist. Just don’t put your turds on our plates.

  • Aron

    To all of the trolls who have decided to jump on my comment (yet all have nearly identical writing styles. Hmm…), there is a huge difference between extreme dislike and hatred. Hatred is an irrational fear and disgust of something with no chance of redemption.

    Dislike is evidence-based, and were countervailing evidence to be presented, I would certainly change my opinion.

    And Terry was absolutely being falsely self-righteous. He had no reason to be as self-righteous as he presented himself, and I was simply calling him on it.

    Oh, and ‘Laura,’ I love when you tell me to ‘look it up.’ Considering you folk(s) are taking issue with understanding my language, I don’t think I’m the one who needs to learn basic American English.

    And ‘Jack,’ that’s some great projection there: ‘anybody who believed this garbage obviously has some bias issues.’ While I would certainly never deny possessing SOME bias, the reasons I believed this at first are A) I trust the SPLC, B) I trust in the depravity of my fellow man, and C) the recent uptick in bias crime is a noted phenomenon.

    And if YOU noticed, as soon as the truth came out, I immediately redacted my support. But I wouldn’t expect any kind of reading comprehension from you folk(s). You can barely understand the written word as it is.

  • Jack

    anybody who believed this garbage obviously has some bias issues

  • laura

    Extreme dislike means hate…look it up.
    False self righteousness? Do you mean false righteousness. Otherwise you mean she is not self righteous. Wanting the facts makes a person self righteous?

    You are the confused one, Dippy!

  • Michael

    Aron,

    I love it! “extreme dislike” why don’t you take a few paragraphs, clear the air and set the record straight on the subtleties between “extreme dislike” and hate and how they can be confusing for folks to differentiate the two.

    Don’t forget to site some examples just so we’re all clear on it. While you’re at it take a stab at explaining what righteousness is and where it comes from.

    Your turn,

  • Aron

    Terry,

    I don’t see any hatred coming from the comments on this piece. Perhaps you are confusing extreme dislike with hatred?

    And what advice on this site has advocated armed conflict?

    I think you simply need to take your false self-righteousness elsewhere, skippy.

  • Terry

    Instead of being so quick to blame someone, what a lot of people should have done was wait for the facts. Stirring the pot by popping off about Rush and Glen Beck, didn’t help at all. Some of you need to take a long look at yourself and ask where all the hatred is coming from. The people of Winnsboro are united together; we prayed together, we are civil and respectful to one another, and now we will heal together. Had we followed some of the advice here and on other sites, we would have started a civil war. Instead, thank God, we had the intelligence to wait to hear the FACTS.

  • Reynardine

    I doubt this young woman had any specific animosity towards white people: note she never even identified the “assailants” by race. The KKK, however, in the larger context of Louisiana, made plausible culprits, like Susan Smith’s “black car thief” who was supposed to have driven off with her kids. My guess is that, like Susan Smith, she was recently jilted, and wanted the attention that martyrdom brings. Unlike Susan Smith, however, she at least hurt only herself.

  • laura

    When someone lies about something so horrible no one will ever believe anything they say again. They will never be truly trusted at least by “intelligent” people. They will or should not be trusted with children. They have no boundries.
    On a much bigger level when a government lies to its people about a horrible crime the damage doesn’t only affect them (the people) it damages the relations with other nations.

  • calico

    She must really hate herself to do that or she miscaculated the extint of the damage. She must really hate whites to go to great lengths. This is a hate crime on so many levels. I agree about if it was a white woman who did this. The media would be on this to no end.
    Scary to think what would happen if she got away with it.

  • Karlie

    Living with the pain and the scars is more than enough punishment. I can’t really feel too sorry for her. She apparently wanted the “poor girl” reaction. Like someone mentioned, it makes it more difficult for real victims not to mention it causes more division between the races. If it was a white woman who did this, I think there would be a much huger reaction here.
    Wonder who has to foot the bill for the investigation.

  • laura

    I knew this story just didn’t add up. She should get a hate crime punishment. Sure is quiet in here now….

  • Aron

    And I just now read the update. I truly hope this woman receives the help she so desperately needs.

    Poor girl :(

  • Aron

    Wow. And I thought HillBillyBud was the craziest person we’d deal with. I guess I stand corrected.

    Either that, or we have an honest Prophet of God in our midst. Perhaps He will tell us the winning lottery numbers? I would be happy to share my winnings (and wings! — thanks autocorrect) with my friends on HateWatch.

  • Reynardine

    WTVJ- Miami reports that this may have been a case of self-immolation. If so, this young woman is seriously disturbed. In a way, it would be a relief to know that there are not hate criminals in the area striking random targets, as Deryl Dedmon and his companions did, but this kind of thing could be used speciously to discredit genuine victims. She is, in all events, in critical condition.

  • Reynardine

    The implications of the attack are grave, and the forensics need to be thorough. Hooded or disguised assailants might even be personal enemies feigning a racially-motivated attack, and the victim herself none the wiser. If it is what it appears to be, the reappearance of this sort of thing in a community where it was absent for some time must be traced to its source.

  • Janet Worsham

    Rush, Anne C., Glenn Beck, American Family, etc. are hate hate speech individuals, and gp, who love power, control, and the money they get.

    I believe in freedom of speach, but belive more in civility. Sad what these people encourage, and the money they make off of their sick thinking.

  • James Waller

    GOD is an all knowing GOD. Who told me that you would soon see an increase in the revelation of racism? Who sent me to stand at the courthouse steps, for four years, in preparation for His service, and warning others that racism has becom
    e intolerant with GOD? Who had me advise Bob Riley (former Alabama governor) that great storms would rest on Alabama? Who sent me to Jackson, Mississippi with an admonition, and warning that great storms were soon to come? Who moved the turbulent weather out of my way, when visiting Mississippi, upon being prompted to ask? Who told me to warn Obama that a person (s) were planning his assassination, at least two to three months prior to any revelation by the media? Who told me to tell Janet Jackson that Michael would go free, though evidence in the media alluded otherwise? Who told me to post on facebook, the night before the tsunami hit Japan, and subsequent tornado rampage, in the United States: Am I seeing great trials, tribulations, and devastation, like I prophesied? THE ANSWER IS THE ONE AND ONLY LIVING GOD: Him that hath an ear, let him hear.

  • Aron

    I am horrified to the point of finding difficulty commenting. But I am also horrified by the possibility that the NBPP will make this their latest cause célèbre, and they will turn this into another Trayvon Martin-esque fiasco.

    I hope the community is able to band together and keep their civility and decorum. This does not need to become yet another media circus.

  • Holly

    But, you see, with people like Glenn Beck, Rupert Murdoch, Anne Coulter, American Family values group, Fox news….attacks like these will continue to increase. Because they fear monger, though singe are much less obvious about it, it’s so clear to someone with any intelligence. This is what they want….this is exactly what they want. And, I guarantee, this will escalate to 1950′$ levels within the next 20 years.