After the disappearance hoax in Alabama that landed Carlee Russell in hot water with law enforcement and spurred one state lawmaker to propose legislation to exacerbate penalties for other similar ruses, sports journalist and podcaster Jemele Hill‘s thoughts alleging that legislation is racially motivated has sparked some conversation online.
Republican state Sen. April Weaver announced her plans to draft a bill in the 2024 session that would upgrade fake abduction charges from misdemeanors to felonies shortly after it was discovered that Russell lied to police and the public about being kidnapped.
That legislation would also intensify the consequences for convictions, including stronger prison sentences and mandatory restitution requirements for the total cost of resources it took law enforcement agencies to respond to a sham abduction.
“This fictitious kidnapping caused fear and shock not only throughout the legislative district I represent, but also throughout our state and nation,” Weaver said in a statement. “Individuals who concoct and carry out sham kidnappings and lead our law enforcement officers on wild goose chases must be given severe penalties for their deceptive actions.”
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has pledged to seek restitution from Russell. In the meantime, she faces two misdemeanors for false reporting to law enforcement and false reporting of an incident, both of which carry a maximum punishment of one year in jail.
After news of Weaver’s intentions to introduce the legislation, Jemele Hill chimed in on the social platform X, formerly known as Twitter, stating, “Alabama gonna Alabama every damn time.”
When another user asked Hill to elaborate on her thoughts about the proposed bill, she chalked up Weaver’s motivations for the bill as overkill, claiming that Russell’s race plays a role in the effort.
She clarified her thoughts in some later posts, doubling down on the fact that she does not dispute the charges or the restitution against Russell.
Hill faced criticism for the tweet, with right-wing trolls accusing her of playing the “race card.”
“@jemelehill is one of the biggest RACE baiting horrendous human beings of all time,” one user wrote.
What Hill questions is the point of strengthening a law now, especially since lawmakers negate efforts to propose bills that prevent white people from making false police calls over nonissues with Black people or when white women falsely claimed they were kidnapped.
“Where [is] the Susan Smith law in North Carolina? Where are the laws that strengthen lying to police when we have seen white women continually lie when they call the police on Black people for just existing in the spaces they don’t want us in?” Hill asked on X. “A white woman just lied in California about being kidnapped by two Latino people, and it turns out she’d spent 3 weeks with an old boyfriend … where’s the new law?”
(South Carolina woman Susan Smith reported to police in 1994 that she’d been carjacked by Black men and her two toddler sons kidnapped. Within days authorities discovered she’d murdered the 3-year-old and 1-year-old by driving her car into a pond with the boys inside.)
Most states don’t have laws to charge or convict people for kidnapping hoaxes. Those fabricated reports would result in charges connected to lying to law enforcement or making false police reports for the inconvenience. Those charges are often treated as misdemeanors that carry up to a year in jail plus probation.
In some states, like Tennessee and New York, the charges can be upgraded to felonies depending on the severity of the crime.
In Florida, cases in which someone calls authorities to lie about the commission of a crime are felonies. That’s exactly what an 11-year-old girl was charged with after she led police on a fake whirlwind search after telling them her friend had been kidnapped by an armed man in a white van last month. It was a case that distinctly mirrored Carlee Russell’s. Before Russell went missing, she called police to falsely report that she saw a child walking on the side of the highway.