Cornerstore Caroline is the latest face of white racial paranoia
On Wednesday, Oct. 10, a woman labeled “Cornerstore Caroline” joined the list of individuals who have, unnecessarily, called the police on people of color. The woman, Teresa Klein, is stating “I was just sexually assaulted by a child.”
While speaking on the phone with what seems to be the police, both the accused nine-year-old boy and another child are shown crying and clinging to their mother. After hanging up the phone, she instructed Jason Littlejohn, the man recording the interaction, to “upload that to Worldstar” and told another woman, “You are a child. You are young enough to be my daughter,” when that woman confronted Klein for calling the police.
While Klein realized that the woman challenging her behavior is young — and therefore deemed her not old enough to fully understand the situation — why did Klein find it necessary to call the police on a child?
When Klein returned to the store later in the week, she was prompted by reporters to watch footage from the store’s security camera, only to realize that it was the boy’s backpack that had brushed against her.
She then attempted an apology, saying, “Young man, I don’t know your name but I’m sorry,” as reported in . While this is not only an issue for the apparent reason — calling the police on an innocent child — Klein is also guilty of making light of the struggles of actual sexual assault survivors.
Unlike Klein, actual survivors of sexual assault do not get the chance to rescind their experience with a brief statement for news reporters and an explanation that it was all a misunderstanding.
Another issue with Klein’s false claim is that she automatically places blame on the young boy. Instead of innocently assuming that it was his bag that brushed against her, or even something else, her first assumption was that a child tried to grab her butt.
This pattern of thinking is part of a phenomenon that has been observed with police shootings — Black children are viewed as being more mature and less innocent than their white counterparts. A published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reveals that, “black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” according to author Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff.
The study asked participants about the innocence of children in general and then specifically about white or Black children. After age nine, Black children and adults were rated as significantly less innocent than white children and adults generally. The study also asked participants to evaluate perceptions of innocence paired with the severity of a crime committed. Similarly, Black youths assumed to have felony convictions had a greater age overestimation than White or Latino subjects in the same category.
Speaking in light of the tragic American history behind inappropriate and false accusations levied at children, this event comes a few weeks after the 63rd anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till. In 1955, Till was a Black 14-year-old boy who allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant, a White woman, while inside of a grocery store. A few days following the alleged incident, Till was taken from his home and lynched before his assailants dumped his body into a river.
Bryant’s husband and his half-brother were charged with murder but an all-white jury ultimately delivered a not-guilty verdict. In court, Bryant also made claims that Till grabbed her and made sexual advances toward her, including telling her that he had “been with white women before” — which . Whether she was confused, outright scornful or a combination of the two, her false account should not have led to the loss of a young life, as police interventions often do.
Had Jason Littlejohn, the man who recorded the video, not been there, would the outcome have remained the same? Would Klein have ever been prompted to realize that she was wrong? Thankfully we live in an age in which technology and social media are at our fingertips, but it’s sad that events thought to have been abandoned along with Jim Crow America are still occuring.
The past couple of months have outed several white individuals who are all too eager to call the police on Black people for innocent acts. Nicknames for these individuals range from , , and now Cornerstore Caroline. While these names are humorous and take some of the severity away from the situation, it is important to remember that these are real people committing these acts, just as there are real people affected by baseless calls to the police.
Instead of allowing them to hide behind cute names, we should expose racists for what they are and reveal their identities. This way they fully understand the ramifications of their actions and begin to gain a sense of how it feels to be judged by those with pre-conceived notions. This isn’t a demand that everyone should like Adam Bloom, better known as ID Adam, but rather have to live with the public backlash.
Teresa Klein is not the first person in America to call for police intervention with regards to benign encounters with people of color, and she will sadly not be the last.
The first step toward deterring other people from further wasting police time and gaining notoriety, however, is to hold them more accountable for their hasty and racially motivated actions.