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A Black Teen Said Her Neck And Face Were Lit On Fire By A Group Of White Men

Police said they are investigating the assault as a possible hate crime.

Posted on June 25, 2020, at 6:32 p.m. ET

Althea Bernstein
Courtesy of Michael Johnson

Four white men sprayed a Black teen with lighter fluid at a stoplight, lit her face and neck on fire, and called her the n-word, she told police.

The attack, which is now being investigated as a hate crime, happened early Wednesday morning in Madison, Wisconsin, after the city saw another night of protests against police brutality and the arrest of a local activist.

Althea Bernstein, an 18-year-old EMT, suffered second- and third-degree burns, said Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, who spoke on behalf of Bernstein and her family.

"It's totally unacceptable given everything that is going on this country," Johnson told BuzzFeed News. "It's just unacceptable behavior that we're just not going to tolerate."

Bernstein was driving to her brother's friend's home around 1 a.m. Wednesday when she approached a red light, according to a police report of the incident.

She was listening to music and driving with her window down when she heard someone call her the n-word, Johnson said.

Courtesy of Michael Johnson

According to the police report, Bernstein turned and saw four white men in another car. One of them sprayed a liquid that landed on her face and neck and tossed a flaming lighter at her, lighting her face on fire, she told investigators.

"She drove forward, patted out the flames," the report states.

Police said they are looking at surveillance images to see if any part of the assault was captured on camera. After the attack, Bernstein drove to her mother's home and went to a local hospital to be treated.

According to police, hospital staffers believe lighter fluid was used in the attack, and Bernstein will need to make additional visits to be treated for her injuries.

Johnson, who has raised money for Black men who have been killed by law enforcement, including George Floyd and Michael Brown, was contacted by friends of Bernstein's family and is helping the family work with police and city officials.

"[Bernstein's parents] just wanted to make sure that their daughter heals from this," Johnson said. "The mother, she just wants to make sure that her daughter heals and is OK."

Bernstein is back home and healing from the incident, he said.

"Our family is saddened at what happened to Althea and the unprovoked attack on her body," the family said in a statement.

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