Friday, January 6, 2017

Race, Abused Crystal Lake Teen, and Press Opportunism

The front page of Thurdsay Northwest Herald, the suburban daily covering Crystal Lake and McHenry County.  Toned down from some headlines, but still sensational with scary looking Black people.

It is almost never a good thing when Crystal Lake the sleepy suburban island of privilege where I have lived for more than 30 years makes national headlines—especially super sensationalized ones.  So my stomach started turning when I saw links to articles headlined like White Tortured Teen Taunted by Racial Slurs and Teen Tormented on Facebook Called a Trump.  I knew things were about to get very, very ugly and fast.  Cue the gleeful response of white nationalists, hate groups, and Alt-right as they are called by the ever respectful and objective press.

What happened was undeniable, boldly documented life on Facebook, disgusting, and deeply disturbing.  

On Monday a 28 minute video shot blurrily on a cell phone was streamed live to Facebook.  A frightened young White man was bound and gagged cringing in a corner.  Abuse had apparently been going on for some time.  A laughing young woman incoherently narrated the video and could be seen smoking a blunt—that’s a fat joint for all you old timers not up on current drug slang.  It was safe to assume that two men and woman seen, as well as perhaps others who can be heard but not seen, were all high as kites.  The men and women all were Black and seemed to be in their late teens.

The victim was repeatedly pommeled, slapped, and kicked.  His clothes were slashed with a knife which was also used to hack off handfuls of hair.  His scalp was gouged in the process and care was taken to show close-ups of the wound.  Ashes were dumped on him and he was forced to drink what was said to be urine.  During the ordeal he was taunted with racial epithets and references to “Donald Trump bitch ass.

The frightened, bound, and gagged victim in a screen save from the Facebook cell phone video.

The young captive was an 18 year old from Crystal Lake who has not been identified in the press by name.  Various sources have described in variously as special needs, mentally handicapped, and mentally ill.  Whatever the case, he was clearly vulnerable.  On Saturday, New Year’s Eve afternoon his mother dropped him off at a McDonald’s in Schaumburg to meet a friend from his former school in Aurora with whom he sometimes socialized.  That friend was later identified as Jordan Hill of Carpentersville, a poor community of converted summer cabins in the flood plain of the Fox River in Kane County just across the McHenry County line which has become a northwest suburban mini-ghetto.  Since they attended the same special school in Aurora, it is likely that Hill also had mental challenges.  He was known to be a drug user.
That evening after receiving one call from her son to pick him up at a friend’s house, his mother got a second call that he had permission to stay overnight at the friend’s home.  That was the last she heard from him. 
The boy evidently went with Hill willingly in what turned out to be a stolen van.  They evidently partied together at unknown locations before ending up in the Chicago Westside apartment of sisters Tanishia and Brittany Covington 24 and 18 years old respectively.  It is unclear when the boy’s time with this group and Tesfaye Cooper also 18 from Chicago, became involuntary.  
Alarmed that phone calls to her son went to voice mail the mother reported her son missing to Streamwood Police where Hill was reportedly staying with his grandmother on Monday afternoon.  They tried unsuccessfully to locate Hill.  Shortly after the mother began to receive text messages from people claiming to be hold her son captive, apparently for ransom.  The Streamwood Police stepped up their investigation and quickly discovered the Facebook video.  They alerted the Chicago Police Department which began their own search.
Around 5:30 Tuesday Chicago patrol officers picked up the boy on the 3400 block of West Lexington Avenue.  Wearing only a tank top and shorts he was battered and wounded and obviously distressed.  The patrol officers did not at first connect him to the missing person report but also picked up Hill who was either with the boy or pursuing him.  It did not take long after that to make the connection.  Cooper and the Covington sisters were quickly apprehended.
According to statements from the boy and Hill after days of partying they were horsing around and a “play fight” quickly got ugly turning into the prolonged torture.  The captive managed to make an escape after the sisters and their friends went to kick down the door of a downstairs neighbor who had made a noise complaint to police.
On Wednesday the news media picked up the story and had no problem quickly discovering the Facebook video.  Several outlets rushed to post either the entire unedited video or sensational portions of it on line often with lurid headlines emphasizing the racial aspects of the case and especially the Trump references in the video.  Within hours it was top news on broadcast and cable news and splashed on newspaper front pages.  I found stories in a Google search across the country and in England.
In a sure sign that the case had become a media sensation Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson appeared at a televised news conference on Thursday to announce the arrests and denounce the case a hate crime.  “It’s sickening,” Johnson said. “It makes you wonder what would make individuals treat somebody like that.”  All four suspects were charged with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated unlawful restraint, and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in addition to commission of a hate crime.  They will be arraigned today.
I want to be perfectly clear that I believe this was a correct call.  Whatever other motivations like ransom or mitigating circumstances like intoxication and drug abuse, or even Hill’s mental capacity, the epithets screamed during the assault made it clear that racial animus was a motivating factor and seemed to spur the viciousness of the attack.
Yes we really mean ALL hate crime.
Before the charges were announced right wingers, White nationalists, and known hate groups were flooding social media with demands that hate crime charges be filed.  This was a significant change of tune for them.  They have always decried hate crime laws as intrusions of the thought police.  They adamantly opposed hate crime charges in White attacks against Blacks, immigrants, Muslims, or allegedly Christian assaults on Gay, lesbian, and transgender victims or abortion providers and patients even in cases like that of Dylan Roof, perpetrator off the Charleston Church mass murder when he repeatedly and publicly avows racial hatred as his motivation.

I say what is good for the goose is good for the gander.  I am for equal opportunity prosecution of clear hate crimes regardless of the color of the victims or the perpetrators.

The hornets’ nest on the right was ridiculously easily stirred up by the early lurid coverage of the mainstream media.  I understand that it was a sensational story—with eye-popping video—that deserved to be fully covered.  But the hysteria of the early headlines seemed to expose the primal racial terror of White editors.  By the second day of coverage all but the worst of the tabloids, Fox News, and right wing radio ravers had moderated their language and began providing more balanced, in-context reporting of the emerging details.  Many scrubbed their websites of those early headlines.  But it was too late.  The enabling of a wave of anti-Black vitriol and howls for wide spread and indiscriminate vengeance had already done its damage.

I also understand that the video was destined to be widely distributed.  Questions of in what context it was presented, however, abound.  Was it best to just throw the whole unedited thing out there and let viewers make of it what they will, or to post edited excerpts?  If the later, were the excerpts selected purely for their shock value?  And how did other media use the video? Were camera grabs showing the suspects in almost maniacal screen saves, as our local daily the Northwest Herald did responsible.

You will note that I have not posted the video or a link to it here.  You have already seen it if you have a mind to.  If you are not sufficiently disgusted and outraged by the description of the torture, then you need to have your moral compass re-calibrated.  And finally I don’t have to prove to you that abuse occurred.  Like most Americans you were probably ready to believe in depredations by Blacks at first accusation.  On the other hand in cases of police shooting or brutality it takes the indisputable evidence of multiple cameras and several “credible”—not Black or minority—witnesses to get a lot of folks to even consider the possibility of guilt. After all we “owe it to our police” to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Tweet by White Nationalist hero Richard Spencer linking Black Lives Matter to the case.  The hashtag went viral.

Whatever the case, there is a whirlwind of toxic hate to be reaped.  There is no end of finger pointing, blame, and accusations.  All Blacks are to blame, but especially Black Lives Matters which is accused of virtually orchestrating the attack. And of course Obama.  It is always Obama’s fault and his secret army of American hating Muslim terrorists. In one Facebook group I participate in a regular went off on the “despicable Obama” for fostering Black attacks on innocent whites and demanded that he publicly denounce the incident.  When it was pointed out to him that in fact the President had, in fact, issued a statement through his press secretary strongly condemning the attack, without a moment’s hesitation or shred of embracement, he pivoted to denouncing Obama’s denouncement. Multiply that thousands of times and you get a feel for the moral sewer out there. 
Of course, every Black and every person of any race who ever spoke up in support of Black Lives Matter was instantly challenged to denounce the attacks, usually before it was even physically possible to do so.  A relatively polite person challenged the Rev. Jake Morill of the Oakridge Unitarian Universalist Church in Tennessee in a thread to a totally unrelated post.  I added my own two cents:

I got accused of ignoring this story before my fingers had a chance to hit the keyboard. It happens regularly and repeatedly. It's the gotcha moment folks with racial issues can't resist even when they haven't gotcha at all. I am examining the issue in depth today in a blog entry I will post shortly and expect to catch hell for it.
More seriously Black journalist and commentator Shaun King who was just returning to the country with his family when the news broke, was targeted immediately with angry demands he denounce the torturers. 
I have deep empathy for the victim. Twenty years ago, a racist mob of young white men beat me so badly that I missed 18 months of high school recovering from three spinal surgeries and fractures to my face and ribs…However, I see thousands of white folk online asking me why I’m not speaking out about it…This country does not need me to speak out on crimes committed by black folk because nobody in this country is held more responsible for the crimes they commit, and even the crimes they don’t commit, than black folk in America…I speak out on injustice. What happened to this man in Chicago was terrible. It was criminal. I hate it, but guess what — justice was swift. It was miraculously swift…You know who’s not in jail right now? The officers who fired 41 shots at and killed Amadou Diallo on the doorstep of his Bronx home. You know who’s not in jail right now? The officers who killed Eric Garner and Rekia Boyd…Neither are the two white men who recently lured a mentally challenged black student into a locker room and rammed a hanger up his rectum…What we are witnessing here is that fact that when particular African-Americans commit a crime, many whites use the crime to cast aspersions and stereotype all black folk. It’s a ridiculous double standard rooted in racism and oppression.
Who and what else are being blamed?  Well liberals, Democrats, the entire city of Chicago and its depraved residents, and—what else?—gun control.  That’s right.  Somehow the outcome would have been different if a mentally challenged teen ager was able to bring a concealed weapon to a drug party.  I haven’t double checked but I am pretty sure that Jews are somehow behind this, too.

David Boyd, brother in law of the victim, spoke for his family at a Crystal Lake press conference.

So what will the fall out of all of this be?  Already entirely innocent members of the accuseds’ families have had their lives repeatedly threatened.  Random harassment of Blacks will increase.  In McHenry County, where White folks whistle past the grave yard of veiled racism denying it exists at all, malevolent voices will try to stir overt racism.  Attempts at making inroads by various Ku Klux Klan and militia groups have occasionally made headlines in the county over the last twenty years or so.  Just two years ago Crystal Lake residents found Klan recruiting flyers on their lawns.  I expect such efforts to ramp up again.  I would not be at all surprised if some White pride or skinhead group announced a local demonstration or march theoretically in support of the young victim’s family.

And what of that victim?  He is reported to have been hospitalized and is recovering from his physical wounds while said to be traumatized.  His family held a press conference yesterday thanking Streamwood and Chicago police and the overwhelming support they have had in social media.  A Go-Fund-Me-Page for him has raised over $17,000 as of yesterday.  His family asks that his privacy be respected.

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