In the same week that Dylann Roof told the court he had no regret over ruthlessly gunning down nine innocent people studying the Bible in a Charleston, South Carolina, church, four individuals (three of them teens) in Chicago kidnapped and tortured a mentally disabled 18-year-old man, streaming the abuse on Facebook Live. Both crimes are being called hate crimes.
What is a hate crime exactly? The dictionary defines it as “a crime, usually violent, motivated by prejudice or intolerance toward an individual’s national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.” Calling something a hate crime can be important in the sentencing phase of a trial because hate crimes usually carry a more serious designation and lead to longer prison terms.
The twist here is that while the Dylann Roof shooting was a classic hate crime involving a white supremacist targeting black individuals, the recent Facebook Live torture incident involved four blacks assaulting a white man who also happened to be disabled. During the assault, the perpetrators flung racial slurs such as “F*&# white people” at the man as they tortured him. But did they target him because of his race or disability? Although it seems obvious that they did, the facts of the case will ultimately prove or disprove whether this was a hate crime.
Hate crimes do not necessarily occur because of hate in the emotional sense. It’s the targeting of a person based upon religion, ethnicity, race, gender, or disability that leads to the designation of a hate crime. Although hate crimes against whites are less common than ones against minorities, they do occur. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes, came out with a strong condemnation of the Chicago incident as a hate crime. “Richard Cohen, president of the SPLC, declared the alleged Chicago assault a hate crime. ‘Whether this is a hate crime based on disability or a hate crime based on race, I think it is incumbent on the authorities to act swiftly,’ he said, calling the crime ‘incredibly shocking.’” (Joe Sexton, “Alleged Chicago Assault Reignites Issue of Hate Crimes Against Whites,”ProPublica, Jan. 5, 2017)
The four young adults in the Chicago case have been officially charged with a hate crime. Whatever the reasons for their abuse of a disabled man, their absolute lack of shame should be troubling to all of us. As a society, we are called upon to protect the vulnerable, not to prey upon and abuse them. We should have a propensity to hate crime, not to perpetrate a hate crime.