NEW YORK (WASHINGTON POST) - A New York woman became the subject of ridicule and hatred on social media after she falsely accused a boy of groping her while she was shopping inside a deli.
Teresa Klein, who is white, created a commotion earlier last week outside the Sahara Deli Market in Brooklyn's Flatbush neighbourhood as she appeared to tell a 911 dispatcher that the boy, who is black, assaulted her. The spectacle was captured in a now-viral video, and Klein, a 53-year-old Brooklyn resident, has been nicknamed #CornerstoreCaroline."No, I want the cops here right now," Klein said as she held her phone to her ear and a crowd of angry onlookers began to gather around.
The boy, wearing a tucked-in green shirt and carrying a backpack, began to cry as the woman in aviator glasses and knee-high boots accused him of grabbing her.
The crowd grew angrier, screaming at Klein, who had covered her other ear as she continued to talk to the 911 operator."I just was sexually assaulted by a child," Klein said. "Are you seriously calling the police?" a woman can be heard saying.
New York resident Jason Littlejohn recorded the Wednesday incident and shared it on Facebook, where it has since been viewed millions of times. The incident comes amid several controversies involving black or brown people who have found themselves the subjects of 911 calls. Such false-alarm emergency calls over non-emergency incidents, many of which have been captured on video, have raised questions about whether these calls had less to do with what someone was doing than with the person's race.
On Friday, Klein went back to the store, where reporters surrounded her. Later, Klein, the reporters and several onlookers, many with phones held up, crowded inside the small deli, where surveillance footage of the alleged grabbing was being played on a screen mounted on a wall.
The video showed Klein standing at the register as the boy walked past behind her with his blue backpack and a plastic bag in his right hand. As the boy's bag appeared to brush against Klein, she looked behind her, seeming startled.
Another Facebook video, also uploaded by Littlejohn, showed Klein watching the surveillance footage. Onlookers screamed at Klein and called her a liar after the footage revealed she was wrong. But Klein seemed oblivious and spoke only to the reporters, who asked her what she thought after watching the footage."The child accidentally brushed against me," she acknowledged.
Looking into one of the TV cameras, she apologised to the boy. "Young man, I don't know your name, but I'm sorry." The Washington Post was unable to reach Klein. A number she was heard giving to the dispatcher during her 911 call is no longer in service. She told Fox affiliate WNYW that she is not racist, and that she called 911 because the boy's mother had become aggressive toward her.
New York police said the department did not receive any complaints or 911 calls coming from the deli's address.
On Monday, the boy - identified as 9-year-old Jeremiah Harvey - attended a community meeting hosted by the Brooklyn borough president, WABC reported.
He "fought back tears at the meeting," WABC reported, "to deliver a simple message. 'Friendship is really the key.'"The station said the child rejected Klein's earlier apology."I don't forgive this woman at all, and she needs help," said Jeremiah. "What happened to us respecting one another, having unity and being neighbourly, did we forget that?" the boy's mother said, according to WABC.
There have been several incidents in the past year involving black people whose ordinary activities were viewed with suspicious lenses - leading to the hashtag #LivingWhileBlack.
For a 12-year-old black boy in Ohio, it was mowing the lawn. For an 8-year-old girl in California, it was selling water outside the apartment building where she lives. And for a pair of young black men in Philadelphia, it was sitting inside a Starbucks waiting for a person they were supposed to meet. For a black lawmaker in Oregon, it was canvassing in her district. For a Yale University graduate student, it was napping in one of the school's common rooms. For a group of black sorority girls in Pennsylvania, it was picking up trash on a highway as part of a community-service effort.
For former Obama White House staffer Darren Martin, it was moving into his new Manhattan apartment. Martin is one of a group of black people who wrote to the House and Senate judiciary committees last summer, asking for a hearing on racial profiling, The Washington Post's Cleve Wootson Jr reported.
In September, New York Democratic state Senator Jesse Hamilton of Brooklyn held a town hall meeting called Living While Black. Hamilton also had introduced legislation that would make falsely reporting an incident a hate crime. The bill remains in committee.