Blame the phantom black man: The sick tactic criminals use to shift the blame

By Megan Palin

Sofina Nikat wasn't the first alleged killer accused of trying to blame a phantom black male.

Australian Police said the 22-year-old on Tuesday night confessed to the murder of her 14-month-old daughter Sanaya Sahib, but had earlier told family and authorities that a shoeless black man smelling of alcohol had snatched her child from the pram and made a run for it.

She told them the man had pushed her before disappearing with her daughter from Olympic Park in Melbourne on Saturday afternoon.

Nikat said she never saw the face of the man, who she described as being of African appearance, between 20 and 30 years old and about 1.8m tall.

A tall, poorly dressed, black man is one of the most popular descriptions used by criminals trying to shift the blame for their crimes onto someone else, according to Africana Cultures and Policy Studies author Zachery Williams.

Mr Williams said the "blame a black man" tactic was centred around exploiting negative stereotypes and prejudices in a bid to deflect suspicion.

He wrote that "black men, whether incarcerated or free, innocent or guilty, must carry the stigma of 'suspects'".

"Other members of society know the stereotyped profile of the black male and use it to their advantage," he wrote.

Mr Williams pointed to the case of Charles Stuart, a Boston resident who murdered his pregnant wife in 1989, and fabricated a story about a black male who killed his spouse.

"The Boston police did not even think twice before they invaded black neighbourhoods to threaten and interrogate all the black males who vaguely fit the phantom suspect's description," Mr Williams said.

In another high-profile case, South Carolina mother Susan Smith strapped her children into the back of her car, rolled them into a lake and watched them drown, on October 25, 1994.

Smith told investigators she was stopped at a red light at an intersection on Main Street in the town of Union, when a black man forced her out of the car at gunpoint and drove off with her two small sons in the back.

"Again, the police did not think twice before initiating a manhunt for another phantom black man," Mr Williams wrote in his book.

Nine days later, Smith confessed to watching her car roll into John D Long Lake with both her sons strapped into the back seat.

"The only reason I lied is because I didn't know how to tell the people who loved Michael and Alex that they would never see them again," Smith later wrote.

Sofina Nikat, 22, has confessed to killing her 14-month-old daughter.
Sofina Nikat, 22, has confessed to killing her 14-month-old daughter.

Smith received life sentences in 1994 for the deaths of 14-month-old Alex Smith and three-year-old Michael Smith.

"Something went very wrong that night. I was not myself," Smith said. "I was a good mother and I loved my boys ... There was no motive as it was not even a planned event. I was not in my right mind."

There have been many other cases involving phantom "black assailants" since Smith's conviction.

In one high profile case, the description matched a real person and resulted in the accused spending time behind bars for a crime he didn't commit.

British student Meredith Kercher, 21, was stabbed in the neck by two different knives and found dead in a pool of blood in the apartment she and Amanda Knox shared in the town of Perugia, on November 2, 2007.

Her throat had been slashed and she had been sexually assaulted.

Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were arrested four days later.

Knox told police she had covered her ears as (Congolese bar owner Patrick Lumumba) killed Ms Kercher in her bedroom.

As a result of the false accusation Mr Lumumba was dragged from his home in front of his children and wife, in a dawn raid by police and taken to jail where has he was held in custody for two weeks.

He was only released when a university professor provided him with a rock solid alibi.

American student Amanda Knox was convicted and acquitted twice of murdering her British housemate Meredith Kercher in the university town of Perugia in 2007. Photo / AFP
American student Amanda Knox was convicted and acquitted twice of murdering her British housemate Meredith Kercher in the university town of Perugia in 2007. Photo / AFP

Knox and Sollecito served four years in prison before an appeals court acquitted them in 2011.

Italy's high court later threw out that acquittal and ordered a new trial, resulting in a conviction. The court sentenced Knox to 28 years in prison and Sollecito to 25 years.

The pair was acquitted a second time.

Fortunately, no wrongful arrests similar to Mr Lumumba's were made in relation to Nikat's description of an "African" man over the weekend.

Nikat's account sparked a major manhunt involving mounted police, members of the public and the State Emergency Services.

Police said no independent witnesses came forward to substantiate her claims.

The next day, a family assisting with the search found Sanaya's tiny body partially submerged in Darebin Lake.

At the time, police said the murder was being treated as a "random attack" and that the man described by Nikat was the "only suspect".

Melbourne shock jock Tony Jones took to the airwaves on Tuesday and expressed his surprise that the community didn't appear to be "screaming from the rooftops" in response to reports that a "kidnapping, murdering, madman" was on the loose.

Nikat's alleged confession came after footage caught by CCTV cameras showed the mother walking to the park with Sanaya then strolling home with an empty pram.

A post mortem is expected to show Sanaya died of smothering but the results are yet to be released.
One thing that has been confirmed is that a man of "African appearance" didn't abduct or kill Sanaya.

- news.com.au

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