My heart sank when I learned that Karol Sanchez had been snatched away from her mother as the two of them walked late at night in the Bronx. I rejoiced when she was found safe in the same area where she was “kidnapped.” And my heart sank again when I learned that she admitted to staging the whole thing with a few other men.
More than anything I hurt for her mother and the pain and anguish she felt watching her daughter be ripped away from her arms. The people who saw the aftermath of Karol’s abduction spoke about hearing her mother’s piercing screams. There’s no telling what she endured in the hours she believed her daughter was missing.
Naturally, when news of the hoax hit, people wanted to know what would possess a sixteen-year-old to do something like this. According to The New York Times, she was attempting to escape a strict and overprotective mother who had been contemplating sending her back to Honduras. Given the fact that Karol knew the type of people willing to stage a kidnapping, I’d say that I can understand why they felt staying and living in New York City might not have been the best for her.
In the hours since we learned that Karol’s kidnapping was a farce, people immediately began comparing her to Jussie Smollett. Black folk, ever ready to make a joke, dubbed her “Jessica Smollett” and shared memes of her face morphing into Smollett’s. I still don’t know for sure what happened with Jussie but, for the sake of argument, let’s say he also lied about his attack. Still, there is a difference. Jussie is a grown ass man. Been grown. Karol is a sixteen-year-old girl. As human beings the rational parts of our brains are not fully developed until we turn 25. Yes, Karol was wrong. She made a huge mistake. But she’s still growing and hopefully still learning.
To Karol’s credit, while Jussie conducted interviews doubling and tripling down on his story, Karol went back to where she was “snatched” hours later to end the whole thing. And when she was confronted by police, she immediately told the truth about her plan.
Furthermore, Jussie had and still has a platform. Before yesterday, many of us didn’t know Karol existed on this earth. And I believe that she hatched this plan believing that no one would even care to learn her name. For many Black girls that is the case. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that Black girls and women aren’t exactly top priority in this country. In most cases, we’re not considered at all. Even in Karol’s case there were discrepancies that could very well have to do with race. While her abduction eventually drew lots of attention, the Amber Alert for Karol was released 12 hours after she had been “kidnapped.” At literally, half a day, that’s entirely too long. And if this is how they behaved with her, who they believed to be an actual victim, there’s no telling how law enforcement across the nation are handling the real cases of kidnapping.
A lot of people would like to point to the real abductions, kidnapping and sex trafficking as the reasons why Karol’s hoax was even more egregious. And that’s true. Her faking something that is really happening to young Black girls is awful. But also, as a sixteen-year-old, she didn’t create the systems that make the lives of Black girls and women less valuable than our White counterparts. Centuries of history did that. And it’s unfair to place the evils of White supremacy, corrupt justice systems and racism on the back of a Black girl who wanted to run away from home.
In discussing this story, my co-worker Keyaira Kelly something that most of us know to be true, based on the ways we were raised. “Black girls aren’t allowed to be young and dumb. Everything we do carries the weight of all Blackness and it’s an unfair yoke to bear.”
In the hours since we learned of Karol’s ill-conceived plan the tone has gone from care and concern to outright vitriol. On The Shade Room, underneath Karol’s picture someone, a woman, literally wrote, “Kill the bitch.”
If our sentiment as a community goes from thoughts and prayers to murder, we have to question what makes Black girls worthy in this world. Is it perfection?
If Karol’s mother is as strict as she says she is, I’m sure there will be consequences. Painful ones. And according to reports, Karol may be facing criminal charges. Death is not the price of lying even if that lie put the whole nation on alert.
I have a feeling that Karol will grow from this, in the ways that all of us mature away from the childish thoughts and ridiculous plans of our sixteen-year-old selves. What I want to know is will Black folk abandon the internalized respectability politics that render it impossible for Black girls to make a mistake and be extended grace and compassion rather than displaced outrage and death threats.