MADISON, Erase. (AP) – A Wisconsin biracial woman who says a group of white men set her on fire while driving wants her attackers to know they have hurt her, but hopes they will improve.
Althea Bernstein told ABC’s “Good Morning America” for a Friday segment that she hasn’t slept and has no appetite. But she called the attack in the Madison state capital a “learning opportunity” for her attackers.
“I am very hopeful that these men will see all the reactions and that they know they are hurting me and this is something that will touch me for a while,” she said. “And I really hope they choose to improve themselves.”
According to a police report, Bernstein, an 18-year-old college student to become a paramedic, drove early in downtown Madison on Wednesday morning. A crowd of 200 to 300 protesters had knocked down two statues in front of the Capitol and attacked Senator Tim Carpenter on the Capitol lawn. Someone also threw a firebomb into a city county building and started a fire.
Bernstein told the news website Madison365.com that she did not participate in the protests and drove to her brother’s house. She said she had her window down as she stopped at a red light and heard someone shout a racist blot on her.
She said four white men appeared – two dressed in black and two in Hawaiian shirts – and sprayed her with lighter fluid. One of them reportedly threw a burning lighter at her and set her neck and face on fire. She said she “shot” through the red light, turned off the fire, and moved on to her brother’s. Later that night, she visited an emergency room, where she said health workers should remove her skin. She said she eventually needs plastic surgery.
“I never really knew that someone could hate you by looking at you,” Bernstein told the website. “They didn’t know me. I didn’t know them. I just drove my car and watched my own business.”
She contacted the police on Wednesday morning and gave them a statement on Thursday. The attack is being investigated as a hate crime.
Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said a detective has contacted Bernstein and is watching the surveillance video from the area to see if there are any cameras that have captured the attack.
Madison, like other cities across the country, has seen protests since George Floyd, a black man with handcuffs, died on May 25 after a police officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes. Floyd may gasp that he cannot breathe before going limp.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.