Assault where Black woman lit on fire labeled hate crime by city officials.

After a group of white men allegedly lit a Black woman on fire at a State Street intersection early Wednesday morning, Madison officials have described it as “racially-motivated.” Graphic: Sam Buisman

Author: Sam Buisman

Madison officials deem a Wednesday assault where a Black woman was lit on fire a hate crime. 

Around 1:00 A.M on Wednesday, 18-year-old Althea Bernstein stopped her car for a red light at the intersection of West Gorham and State Street when a group of four white men approached her open drivers-side window. The men allegedly called Bernstein a racial slur before spraying lighter fluid on her face and neck and throwing a lit lighter at her, engulfing her in flames. Bernstein sped away and managed to put out the fire and was later treated at a local hospital for her burns. 

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway commented on the assault Thursday afternoon, describing it as a “violent racially-motivated hate crime.” 

“This is a horrifying and absolutely unacceptable crime that I will not tolerate in Madison,” said the Mayor. “While we are still learning more about the details, current information suggests this may have been a premeditated crime targeted toward people of color, which makes the incident even more disturbing.” 

The Madison Police Department announced an investigation into this incident on Thursday morning, but as of press time has not identified any suspects nor made any arrests. 

Urban Triage, a non-profit activist group who has organized many of the city’s George Floyd protests, criticized the MPD for what they saw as a slow and dismissive response to Bernstein’s assault.

“Had the victims been officers, or a white Senator, how would they have responded?” posted Urban Triage on their Facebook page. “Who and what exactly are MPD protecting?  It sure as hell isn’t Black lives and the buck stops at Chief Wahl.” 

At press time, the MPD is continuing their investigation and asking for anyone with information on this crime to contact the Madison Area Crime Stoppers by phone at (608) 266-6014 or online at