An assault on a biracial woman is being investigated as a hate crime after she was allegedly burned by lighter fluid thrown at her and ignited by a white man.
Althea Bernstein, an 18-year-old EMT, said the incident occurred at about 1am on Wednesday in Madison, Wisconsin, as she was driving to her brother’s house.
She had stopped at a red light with her driver’s side window down when she heard someone yell out ‘n****r.’ She looked around and saw four white men by her car.
One sprayed liquid on Bernstein’s face and neck and threw a flaming lighter at her, she told police.
Althea Bernstein, 18 (pictured), an EMT, was driving to her brother’s house in Madison, Wisconsin, on Wednesday at 1am when four white men approached her car and yelled out ‘n****r’
One man allegedly used a spray bottle to spray lighter fluid on her neck and then set her on fire with a lighter, causing second- and third- degree burns on her neck and face (pictured)
According to a police incident report, the attackers used a spray bottle to spray lighter fluid on the teenager’s face.
Bernstein described the four white men to Madison365 as ‘classic Wisconsin frat boys.’
Two were allegedly wearing all black, and the other two were wearing jeans and floral shirts.
Over the last month, groups of far-right counter-protesters wearing Hawaiian shirts have disrupted Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Bernstein believes all four men were intoxicated during the incident.
She said she pulled forward, put out the flames and drove home where her mother encouraged her to go to the UW Hospital emergency department.
Bernstein was treated for second- and third-degree burns, and told Madison365 that she was put through a decontamination routine to get the lighter fluid off her skin because i it was continuing to burn her.
‘They had to pretty much scrub the skin off, which was extremely painful,’ she said.
‘Burn pain is something I can’t even really describe. I don’t know how to describe it. It was horrible.’
Bernstein will need to repeat the procedure every few days and, once she heals, will have to undergo plastic surgery to repair the damage.
Police say they are looking at surveillance footage to see if any part of the attack was captured on camera.
Bernstein said her happy childhood memories of growing up in Madison have been overshadowed by the memories of this attack.
‘I never really knew someone could hate you just by looking at you,’ she said.
‘They didn’t know me. I didn’t know them. I was just driving my car and minding my own business.’
Police are now investigating the attack as a hate crime and are looking at surveillance footage to see if it was caught on camera. Pictured: Althea Bernstein
In spite of all this, she told Madison365 that she’s glad the men didn’t attack someone more vulnerable,
‘I’m glad it was me, and not someone like a pregnant woman, or a child, or someone who doesn’t have the health care that I do or the support system that I do,’ Bernstein said.
The assault came amid a night of violence on Tuesday that included the toppling of two statues outside the Capitol and an attack on a state senator.
A group of 200 to 300 people protested the arrest of a Black man after he shouted at restaurant customers through a megaphone while carrying a baseball bat.
Someone also threw a Molotov cocktail into a government building and attempted to break into the Capitol, only to be repelled by pepper spray from police stationed inside.
The violence prompted Gov Tony Evers to activate the National Guard to protect state properties.
On Wednesday night, about 40 people gathered peacefully outside the county jail where the man was being held, calling for his release. A crowd of about 100 people congregated outside the Capitol.