It was a horrific attack in Chicago, broadcast for the world to see on Facebook Live: A young woman and three others apparently held a horrified young man captive, his mouth taped shut and wrists tied as the alleged kidnappers took turns beating him and, at one point, cut his hair and scalp with a knife — all in an apparent hate crime.
“Fuck Donald Trump,” a person can be heard repeatedly shouting during the 30-minute video, which was posted earlier this week. “Fuck white people.”
During the video, the apparent kidnappers, who appear to be black, laugh and joke while taunting the victim, who is seemingly white, and listening to music. Someone in the video claims that the victim “represents Trump.”
According to CNN, police on Tuesday found the victim, an 18-year-old who they said had “mental health challenges” and was possibly “in crisis,” walking around the streets. Police haven’t released more details about the victim, including whether he even was a Trump supporter.
The victim’s parents said they had dropped him off at a McDonald’s on December 31. Soon after, they began receiving texts from someone who claimed to be holding him captive.
By Wednesday, the police had apprehended four suspects, two men and two women, who they believe abused and tortured the victim. Authorities on Thursday filed hate crime, kidnapping, and battery charges, among other charges, against the suspects, the Associated Press reported.
According to police, the victim was a classmate of the people who attacked him on video and voluntarily went with them. He was with his attackers for at least 24 hours before officers found him.
The victim said that at one point he got into a “play fight” with one of his attackers, which eventually escalated into the scene of the video, in which the attackers yelled racial comments and insults about his mental health. Both the anti-white slurs and the remarks about his mental capacity contributed to the hate crime charges, police said.
The victim was tied up for four or five hours, according to investigators. He managed to escape when a downstairs neighbor threatened to call 911 due to all the noise, which distracted some of the attackers as they went confronted the neighbor and broke into her apartment.
The investigation is ongoing, so the details reported so far could change.
“It’s sickening. It makes you wonder what would make individuals treat somebody like that,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said, according to the Washington Post. “It still amazes me how you still see things that you just shouldn’t. I’m not going to say it shocked me, but it was sickening.”
For many, the attack exemplifies some of the growing racial unrest that is dominating more and more of American politics. And as long as the underlying issues behind those tensions remain, these kinds of horrific incidents may only occur with more frequency.
There have been reports of racially motivated attacks since Trump’s election
Even before Trump was elected, race relations in the US were becoming an increasing problem. According to a Gallup survey from April, a record number of Americans, since at least 2001, said they worried “a great deal” about race relations in the US.
Since then, there have been multiple events that have likely made things worse.
For one, racial disparities in police use of force — highlighted by several high-profile incidents, like the police killings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana, Walter Scott in South Carolina, and Keith Lamont Scott in North Carolina — have continued to get national attention due to massive protests and, in rarer cases, riots.
Then Donald Trump got elected. Trump’s rhetoric and campaign promises enticed voters fueled by racial resentment: He characterized Mexican immigrants as criminals and “rapists.” He called for banning Muslims — an entire religious group — from the US. He said a US judge should recuse himself from a Trump University case due to his Mexican heritage. He referred to black and Latino people’s lives as hell, calling for police to adopt “stop and frisk” — a practice deemed unconstitutional in New York City because it was used in racist ways — to help protect “inner cities.” And much of the support for Trump seemed to be motivated by racism — with multiple studies finding racism predicted support for the billionaire.
After the election, there were reports of hundreds of hate crimes. Many of the acts against minorities were explicitly linked to Trump, from physical attacks to instances of racist graffiti to children chanting, “Build the wall,” at minority students in school. There were also some reports, albeit much more rarely, of hateful acts against white people, including one incident in which a group of people beat a 49-year-old man while shouting that he voted for Trump.
The reports of post-election hate attacks, which totaled 867 as of early December, aren’t all verified, gathered largely anonymously by the Southern Poverty Law Center through its website. And it’s unclear if the incidents, as alarming as they may be, actually represent an increase in hateful acts: We don’t have any good statistics on hate crimes, but some estimates suggest that there are nearly 260,000 hate crimes a year, or more than 700 a day, in the US.
But when the polling on race relations, protests over police killings, Trump’s election, and reports of hate attacks are taken all together, it’s clear that something is going on — that the US really is going through a period in which race relations are inflamed.
In this climate, it is sadly possible that some people will lash out in horrific attacks.
Conservatives want to know why there isn’t a liberal outcry against this crime
The Chicago attack has drawn particular attention, especially from members of the conservative media, because they see it as a racial double standard among liberals. Conservatives pointed to coverage that at least appeared to downplay the attacks, including a Don Lemon segment on CNN in which he suggested the attack wasn’t “evil” but a result of bad parenting. And they contrasted it to widespread liberal outrage over other racist acts, such as reports of hate attacks after Trump’s election.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who’s a very public supporter of Trump, made the conservative argument while on Fox News: “If this had been done to an African American by four whites, every liberal in the country would be outraged. And there’d be no question that it’s a hate crime.”
.@NewtGingrich: If this beating had been done to an African American by 4 whites, every liberal in the country would be outraged pic.twitter.com/5TOO4m2oHb— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) January 5, 2017
And some conservatives have tried to link the Chicago attack to Black Lives Matter through the Twitter hashtag #BLMkidnapping, even though there’s no known link between the perpetrators of the attack and the movement. (In response, Black Lives Matter Chicago tweeted, “BLM doesn’t condone violence and we are abhorred by this travesty. We hope he’s well [and] receiving care.”)
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
At the root of their complaints, as misleading as they may be, conservatives are calling out liberals for not bringing attention to this attack in the same way they might bring attention to attacks against minority Americans.
But the context matters here. The simple truth is that America has a long history of systemic racism against minorities. There was slavery, which required the Civil War to abolish. Then white supremacist groups, particularly in the South, carried out a racist terrorism campaign for decades in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the US, culminating in race riots and lynchings explicitly meant to oppress black people. At the same time, state governments — again, largely in the South — imposed Jim Crow laws that forcefully segregated white and black people and stripped black Americans of their voting rights.
Today, there are continued racial disparities in just about every aspect of American life, including wealth, income, educational attainment, life expectancy, and the criminal justice system. And a man who ran a clearly racist campaign won the presidential election.
It is through this long historic thread that progressives’ concerns about hateful acts against minority Americans developed: It’s not just about an individual police shooting or act of discrimination, but about the broader systemic problems that the individual incident represents.
There is simply no comparable thread of systemic abuses against white Americans, so anti-white attacks, as abhorrent as they may be, don’t draw as much attention.
The Chicago attack also led to swift justice, with the perpetrators already criminally charged — leaving little need for advocacy groups that call for justice in other cases.
Nonetheless, many people share a sentiment similar to Gingrich’s about what they perceive as racial double standards. A 2011 study found that many white people now think racism against them is a much bigger problem than racism against minorities. “When asked about the present-day United States, a striking difference emerged,” researchers Samuel Sommers and Michael Norton wrote at the Washington Post. “Our average white respondent believed that at the time of our survey in 2011, anti-white bias was an even bigger problem than anti-black bias.”
Conservatives in particular think this is driven in part by government priorities. Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist and author of Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, provided an apt analogy for how many white conservative Americans feel: As they see it, they are all in this line toward a hill with prosperity at the top. But over the past few years, globalization, public health crises, and other issues have caused the line to stop moving. And from their perspective, people — black and brown Americans, women — are now cutting in the line, because they’re getting new (and more equal) opportunities through new anti-discrimination laws and policies like affirmative action.
Again, there is plenty of evidence against this: White Americans still outperform their black and brown peers in wealth, income, educational attainment, life expectancy, and the criminal justice system.
But many conservative white people feel there is anti-white racism out there and that liberals just don’t take it seriously.
And when they see attacks like the one in Chicago and feel that the media coverage and liberal outrage just aren’t at the levels they should be, many of their feelings are, rightly or wrongly, validated.