By Kent R. Kroeger (October 16, 2018)
If you haven’t heard the story yet about Teresa Sue Klein (aka ‘Cornerstore’ Caroline,’ here is the basic rundown:
Last week, as a nine-year-old African-American boy and his mother were exiting a crowded Brooklyn bodega, the boy’s backpack accidentally brushed against the backside of another store patron, Teresa Sue Klein, 53, who was bent oddly over a store counter. A surveillance video from the store clearly showed the physical encounter was accidental.
However, after a verbal exchange between Klein and the boy’s mother, Klein called the police and said the child of “grabbed her ass.”’ When Klein eventually saw the surveillance video, she realized she was not sexually assaulted and (indirectly) apologized to the child through a local TV news station.
But the damage had been done. An innocent child was needlessly traumatized, crying loudly as his mother exchanged unpleasantries with Klein. As for Klein, apparently this was not the first time she had engaged in a hostile confrontation with her Brooklyn neighbors.
End of story.
Most of the national media covered this event as a white person calling the police on a black person for no good reason-story, as it fits a popular narrative among media elites that the U.S. is teeming with white racists who are the primary cause of the sociopolitical strife found in our nation today.
“Another day, another racist,” was DailyKos writer Jessica Sutherland’s summary of the event.
#WearingABackpackWhileBlack was trending on Twitter for most of the day.
And while a race dynamic may be present in the ‘Cornerstore Caroline’ story, there is another facet to the story receiving less attention and is, perhaps, the more salient lesson from this minor, mostly irrelevant, ado.
Reporters from the New York Post interviewed Klein shortly after the incident and gained some additional background information about Klein. She described herself as an “unemployed feminist and humanist” who was also a practicing Buddhist that occasionally “lets her temper show.”
Originally from Missouri, Klein had recently attended the University of Missouri to complete her PhD in biochemistry. She also has been a “performer” and actor at various times.
Her background isn’t that different from my wife’s — a highly-educated, spiritual woman with a sharp temper.
All good. Except for this fact — Klein’s impulsive decision to accuse a child of sexually assaulting her after what objectively could only be described as minor bodily contact.
Thank God there was a surveillance video to corroborate the child’s defense.
Imagine if there had not been a surveillance video and, instead of a nine-year-old boy, it was a 21-year-old African-American man standing accused of sexual assault. It is not absurd to suggest he might have been booked on a sexual assault charge that day.
Klein’s repeated appeal to the police that she “was just sexually assaulted by a child” cannot be dismissed as a local neighbor squabble. As she’s a Buddhist-feminist-humanist (with a temper), I can’t help but suspect Klein probably drowns herself each night in the current #MeToo zeitgeist. The charge of ‘sexual assault’ flew too easily off her tongue. Her unconstrained outrage crackled as she pointed her finger at nine-year-old boy, traumatized over something he didn’t do. As I watched the store’s surveillance video, I was disappointed Klein didn’t turn the tirade into a broader attack on white male privilege. I know she wanted to.
In all fairness, I’m projecting at this point, but its hard not to conjecture. As I said, Klein is familiar to me. I married a militant couch-feminist who effortlessly regresses into pop-feminist philippics about patriarchies, social privilege and institutional bias as we watch old Star Trek episodes.
As for ‘Cornerstore Caroline,’ my wife contends she’s an extreme outlier. There are too many incentives discouraging such behavior, she says.
A few years ago, I would have agreed with her. Today, I’m not so sure. Particularly after a recent sermon we heard at our Unitarian Church where the minister openly declared supporters of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as “the enemy” (though she didn’t say his name directly, it was obvious in the context).
A Unitarian minister used the pulpit to share with parishioners her enemies list!
What happened to the days of vegetarian Chili cook-offs and Buddhist drum circles? Are we going to learn about the ABCs of doxing in next Sunday’s sermon?
As obscene as the minister’s words were to my ear (my wife enjoyed watching me get triggered), it wasn’t as offensive as Hillary Clinton declaring civility only returns when the Democrats are back in power? Has everyone in the Democratic Party, save for Bernie Sanders, Susan Sarandon and Tulsi Gabbard, gone totally loopy?
Still, independent of my recent disillusionment with my church, it is possible Klein is an extreme outlier and that very few women (as in none) would willingly put themselves in such a vulnerable position, either on the streets of Brooklyn or in a Senate confirmation hearing. Public scorn and ridicule are a powerful deterrent to making false accusations. Its what keeps me in line.
However, initially in Klein’s mind, she didn’t make a false accusation. She believed she was sexually assaulted (minor as it was) and had no qualms about letting the police, and anyone within earshot, know about it.
If not for the surveillance tape, Klein would have passed a lie detector test with ease. She believed her ass was grabbed by a nine-year-old boy…except it wasn’t.
Klein’s account of the alleged assault was grossly inaccurate at time t-minus-zero. Forget about issues of long-term memory decay or dynamic recall bias, human’s are gloriously capable of screwing up recollections of even simple events in the present.
This is why physical evidence is so critical in criminal trials and why empirical evidence trumps (no pun intended) even the most elegant and elaborate theories (Remember String Theory? Total crap.). Humans need data to make good judgments. Trust but verify. We should always listen to people — that is just good manners — but believing them requires more than just their word.
Let us hope ‘Cornerstore Caroline’ is an extreme outlier, but use her as a reminder of our need for evidence as we go about our everyday lives.