Reports of a horrific crime swept across the web Wednesday evening. A man with special needs was bound, gagged, and tortured in the Chicago area on Tuesday, and the attack was streamed live over Facebook.
Four suspects—two men and two women—are in custody awaiting charges. All of the suspects and the victim are 18 years old.
The nature of the crime made it viral for the charged political environment of social media. The suspects, who are black, yelled “fuck Donald Trump,” and “fuck white people” at the victim, who is white. His mouth taped and wrists tied, they took turns beating him and cutting his scalp with a knife.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson summed it up when he called the video “sickening” (which is why I won’t link to it or display it, you can easily find clips around the web).
It wasn’t long before conservatives and the alt-right erupted into a feeding frenzy over the video. The Twitter hashtag #BLMkidnapping quickly began to trend, and conservatives like Glenn Beck tied the crime to Black Lives Matter—with no evidence.
You are right. Stand up with me and demand justice in Chicago for the beating of a disabled trump supporter by BLM https://t.co/aP79pKnHA1
— Glenn Beck (@glennbeck) January 5, 2017
Meanwhile, Democratic strategist Symone Sanders told CNN’s Don Lemon that the crime was “sickening,” and added: “But I’m gonna say something that’s probably not very popular — we cannot callously go about classifying things as a hate crime.”
Hypocrisy is Bipartisan
Note to Symone Sanders: if kidnapping a mentally disabled man and torturing him while screaming “fuck white people” isn’t a hate crime, then what is?
Note to the alt-right: Where’s your criticism for the only presidential candidate to openly endorse torture, mock a disabled reporter, encourage violence at his rallies, ad nauseam. And will you swarm Twitter with a hashtag next time there’s one of the many horrific racially motivated crimes against blacks.
It’s true there is a double standard—collective responsibility is applied to blacks in a way that it isn’t to whites. Black Lives Matter is expected to be held responsible for the torture video, despite no connection proven. Yet few have argued that all Trump voters should be held responsible for the number of hateful attacks in his name.
What is a Hate Crime?
But I won’t let liberals off the hook, either. There’s often a double-standard of what is a hate crime. The term is problematic in itself.
I share Bill Maher’s skepticism of hate crime laws, and agree with that they give “Liberals a bad name” (in fact, many things give liberals a bad name, which is why I’ve started to call myself a leftist).
In his HBO show “Real Time,” Maher said:
One more aspect of this (Treyvon Martin case) which is hate crimes, and I know that you’ve (pointing to Andrew Sullivan) written about this. Some people think that a hate crime is a thought crime and this shouldn’t be some separate category, a crime is a crime. It’s an action. Is that what you guys believe? That’s what I believe.
Maher is onto something here. The problem with a hate crime is that it’s essentially based on the concept of a thought crime.
According to the FBI, a crime becomes a hate crime when there’s an added element of bias. So in addition to committing an action, a bias (i.e. prejudice based on thoughts/feelings) has to be determined in order to be charged with a hate crime. It’s very Orwellian.
The liberal argument for hate crime laws is based on systemic oppression—and does have a strong historical basis. Racially-motivated crimes against blacks and other groups have often been minimized or even ignored in the American justice system. Such crimes were an epidemic during the Civil Rights Movement.
But in the contemporary world, the definition of hate crime breaks down on a case by case basis. The vast majority of violent crimes are motivated by some sort of hate—whether it’s domestic abuse or a gang shooting. Hate crime laws just label a certain type of hate as especially egregious (prejudice based on social group).
That some hesitated to label the Chicago torture video a hate crime reveals the ambiguity of the term. Such terminology games and double standards are what engender such animosity towards Democrats. Some Democrats parse ‘what is a hate crime’ while others smear the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress. What a diverse party.
But at least liberals aren’t sharing the wrong mugshot on Twitter, so there’s that.
Note 1: Shortly after writing this article, the suspects involved in the torture video were charged with hate crimes.
Note 2: On Thursday night Symone Sanders said that she “didn’t have all the details” and now “definitely” believes the Chicago torture was a hate crime. I commend her on the change.