There's a lot to unpack from Chicago's latest racial outrage, the Facebook Torture Case, and it's ugly, so let's get to it. You know the news. Four African-Americans were charged last week with hate crimes in the alleged kidnapping and torture of a bound, white and mentally disabled young man. Police said they beat him, forced him to drink toilet water, jabbed at him with a knife and cut his scalp, shouting “F*** white people!" and “F*** [Donald] Trump!" and laughing while smoking blunts and streaming it all live on Facebook.
I watched some, not all of that video, the way they brutalized that young man, the terror in his eyes, hearing their laughter. And I realized these were human beings, amusing themselves with the pain of a mentally disabled man. There are many words for this, but irredeemable is the one that comes to mind. And when Chicago's top cop talked of it, he said something worth considering again.
"It makes you wonder what would make individuals treat somebody like that," said Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. "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."
Johnson's been a cop in Chicago for decades, so he's seen worse. We haven't, but he and other police have. With City Hall pushing body cameras for all police, I figure the rest of us should soon be able to see what cops see, at the crime scene, with all the brutality that we try to shield ourselves from. Because cops work in that world where people do such things to each other. Where criminals laugh and inflict pain, on babies, old people, anyone. Most of the rest of us haven't been to that place and we'd be psychologically damaged if we did. There are other elements of this heater case that should be acknowledged, like the politics of this thing. It's crawling with politics now. It's partly a racial thing so let's talk race.
If the races were reversed, and a mentally disabled black kid were tortured by white barbarians, the political left would be screaming that over-the-top political rhetoric from the right had trickled down and encouraged the brutes. You can argue with me about this, but that won't change it. Yet it's the other way now, isn't it? And the political right is arguing that anti-Trump rants from the left — including casting white males as the political enemy — have given license to this kind of thing. The two sides will slap-fight each other over this on social media, in anonymous and hateful comments under online news stories, and they'll slap each other in the journals. And this is how we craft political weapons from human misery.
But there is another kind of politics at work here as well, the politics of Chicago musical chairs. From the moment the torture video went viral, picked up by the cable news networks and replayed, over and over, and as talking heads debated whether "evil" was the appropriate word, Chicago politicians hunkered down. You weren't in the meetings and neither was I, but you can envision them huddling in three distinct groups: One group with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his people; another with new Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx and hers; and a third with Eddie Johnson with his white shirt supervisors and detectives. And in each one, there must have been some staffers, staring at their phones, wondering if this heater case would burn their boss when the music stopped.
Foxx seemed to never miss a camera during the Laquan McDonald controversy. When that video finally surfaced after the mayoral election, showing the white cop shooting a black kid 16 times, Foxx won her election. She was all over the news then, but for this case, she was rather reserved, though her office pressed the charges. And Emanuel, hoping to rehabilitate himself with black voters after the way he handled the McDonald fiasco, waited until the water was warm. Most of it was left to Johnson, and he made sure to hit his main political talking point early in his news conference last week, as the charges were read and national news was made.
"There was never a question whether this incident qualified to be investigated as a hate crime," Johnson said.
The “F*** white people!" and “F*** Trump!" commentary on the video left no other options. So hate crime it was. But what is a hate crime if not thought crime? I don't like the idea of hate crimes, because people's thoughts should belong only to them, not the government. What's important is action. And binding and gagging a disabled man, poking at him with a knife as he cowers in a corner, carving a chunk out of his scalp as he whimpers while the kidnappers laugh, all that brutality is certainly hateful enough.
We're sickened and shocked because we watched it all on video. But I wonder how we'd feel if we had access to those police body cam recordings, to see what cops see when they walk up and look into a victim's eyes. Like Eddie Johnson we'd be sickened. And like him, eventually, we wouldn't be shocked.
John Kass has covered a variety of topics since arriving at the Chicago Tribune in 1983. Kass has received several awards for commentary and journalism, from organizations including the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi, , the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Press Club of Atlantic City, the Chicago Headline Club's Lisagor Award for best daily newspaper columnist. In 1992, Kass won the Chicago Tribune's Beck Award for writing. to readmore of his reports, Click Here Now.