Our Response to Yesterday's Horrific Facebook Live Hate Crime

The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights condemns the vicious attack on a young man with developmental disabilities that was live-streamed on Facebook by one of the perpetrators and dominated local and national news yesterday. Authorities in Chicago completed their preliminary investigation and have charged four young people with hate crimes, as well as kidnapping, aggravated assault, and additional charges that carry stiff criminal penalties.

The shaky video that went viral Tuesday overnight and generated outrage from millions of viewers shows the 18-year-old victim bound by his wrists and neck, his mouth taped closed, crouching in a corner, as his attackers taunt him, slash his clothing with knives, and take turns slapping, punching and kicking him. On cropped video segments available all over the web, the perpetrators can be heard making comments about the victim being white, and “representing Trump.” They also mock his appearance and force to him drink from a toilet. At one point, one of the attackers cuts a chunk of his hair and scalp off with a knife.

Around homes and offices, millions of people saw the news clips and asked one another, “Who would do such a thing?” “What was the motivation?”  “How do we, as a society, respond to and prevent these despicable acts?”

Let’s be clear: Violent acts committed against any person because of that person’s disability status and/or race are hate crimes under Illinois law. The Chicago Lawyers' Committee has worked to support victims of hate crimes for over 25 years. We helped to make Illinois’ Hate Crime law as strong as possible for protected groups, and we have used the law to assist multiple victims in both criminal and civil proceedings. We have represented African American victims who were attacked by skinheads in Fox Lake, Latino families harassed and assaulted in Chicago, and we have secured multiple large civil verdicts to penalize offenders and send a strong message condemning and deterring such actions.

What we saw on the video clips looks very much like a hate crime against a young man because of his disability status and race. The Chicago Police Department has determined that four people committed certain crimes against a young man because of his disability and race. And now prosecutors and the courts must do their work to enforce the law. Under the Illinois Hate Crime Act, crimes motivated in whole or in part because of racial or disability bias are hate crimes, even if there were other motives for the crimes. The perpetrators should be held accountable for their brutal acts against a particularly vulnerable victim.

But let us also acknowledge history and context here: Most victims of hate crime in our country are people of color; this has been true every year since the FBI has collected hate crime statistics. Over the past year, African Americans, Latinos, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ individuals, and people with disabilities have all been targets of hate crimes far more often than white individuals. What happened to this young man in Chicago is heart-breaking and intolerable. We must seek justice and healing for him and his family and demand appropriate punishment for his attackers. But as we do so, let us remember to speak up and insist on justice just as vociferously and promptly every time we hear of a hate crime, no matter the race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or disability status of the victim.

Most hate crimes are not reported and they must be. The Chicago Lawyers' Committee is committed to supporting individuals and communities targeted by hate speech and violence. We encourage all people who are victims of hate crime, or who need additional information and support, to call our Hate Crime Project at 312-202-3663. Hate crime is bigotry at its worst. In a country that stands for equal rights and equal protection for all, violent intolerance is unacceptable.