By ReShonda Tate,
The Defender Network
Well, folks asked for it, so they got it. Authorities in Alabama have filed criminal charges against Carlee Russell, the woman who confessed to fabricating a story that she was kidnapped after stopping to check on a toddler she saw walking on the side of an interstate highway.
Carlee was charged with false reporting to law enforcement and falsely reporting an incident, both misdemeanors that carry up to a year in jail.
“Her decisions that night created panic and alarm for citizens of our city and even across the nation as concern grew that a kidnapper was on the loose using a small child as bait,” said Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzi. “Numerous law enforcement agencies, both local and federal, began working tirelessly not only to bring Carlee home to her family but locate a kidnapper that we now know never existed. Many private citizens volunteered their time and energy in looking for a potential kidnapping victim that we know now was never in any danger.”
Police – and half of America – wanted to charge Carlee with more serious charges because of the disruption she caused, but the “law did not allow for enhanced charges.”
Like thousands of people following this story, I was heartbroken to learn it was a hoax. While I’m not one of those “I want my prayer back” folks, I am disappointed because we FINALLY got the world to pay attention to a missing Black woman… and it was a hoax done reportedly to get back at a cheating boyfriend.
As a former young woman, and the mother of two young women, I understand that young people make dumb mistakes. Carlee’s just happened to go viral. So, yeah, I’m upset about it, but I don’t have time to wallow in that fake story when there are more than 15,000 REAL missing Black women and girls in the world, according to the Black and Missing Foundation, a Maryland-based nonprofit group that works to bring awareness to missing people of color.
Does Carlee owe the world an explanation? Some folks feel like she does. I don’t. She lied. Her telling us why and explaining her actions on TikTok isn’t going to change that. But I’m not going to apologize for believing a Black girl.
For some reason, when White people make a mistake, it’s on that one individual. When a Black person makes it, it’s a stain on the whole race. Why is that? How do we change that? There are THOUSANDS of Black women and girls who come up missing every year. We cannot afford to discount them all because one of them was bogus.
It’s bad enough that others paint us with a broad brush. It’s imperative that we don’t follow suit. Black women have to prove to people that we’re worthy of empathy, worthy of protection, worthy of being believed. We cannot let the outcome of Russell’s case derail us from the task of finding Black women who go missing. We can never give up in spreading awareness and searching for our sisters.
Now that we know the truth, let’s not give this case any more of our energy. Carlee made her bed. Let her lie in it. And let the rest of us move on and give our attention to the Black women who are still missing.
This article was originally published by Defender Network.