Althea Bernstein, a Black woman in Madison, Wisconsin, has sustained second- and third-degree burns after she was allegedly set on fire early Wednesday morning by white men yelling racial slurs.
The 18-year-old EMT, who is studying to be a paramedic and firefighter, says she was on her way to her brother’s house at around 1 am Wednesday when she reached a stoplight .
“I was listening to some music at a stoplight and then all of a sudden I heard someone yell the n-word really loud,” Bernstein tells Madison365. “I turned my head to look and somebody’s throwing lighter fluid on me. And then they threw a lighter at me, and my neck caught on fire and I tried to put it out, but I brushed it up onto my face. I got it out and then I just blasted through the red light … I just felt like I needed to get away. So I drove through the red light and just kept driving until I got to my brother.”
A police incident report says the assailants used a spray bottle to spray lighter fluid on her face.
Bernstein says the men who attacked her “looked like classic Wisconsin frat boys … Two of them were wearing all black, and then the other two were wearing jeans and a floral shirt.” She added that they appeared intoxicated. The attack occurred as Black Lives Matter protests were winding down in Madison, though Bernstein had not been participating in the event. In recent weeks, far-right counter-protesters have attended and disrupted BLM protests wearing Hawaiian-style floral shirts.
Bernstein drove herself to the hospital following the attack, and was released around 6AM. She then gave police a statement. A Madison police spokesman confirmed that Bernstein had called police and had taken a statement Thursday morning. According to a police incident report, “Investigators are looking at surveillance images to see if any of the assault was captured on camera.”