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Editorial: Facts, not emotions, define a hate crime

This combination of pictures created on January 5, 2017, shows the mugshots released by the Chicago Police Department of assault suspects Tanishia Covington (left), Jordan Hill, Tesfaye Cooper and Brittany Covington. | AFP photo/Chicago Police Department

Follow @csteditorialsPolice and prosecutors waited the better part of two days before, on Thursday morning, charging four African-American defendants with a hate crime in the torture of a mentally disabled white man. Folks on social media were outraged, questioning the delay and insisting the hate — as evident on a 30-minute video that went viral — was obvious.

But as Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson later explained, any criminal charge — and certainly one elevated to the level of a hate crime — should be diligently investigated and based on “facts, and not emotion.” He was not about to be rushed; and we would never disagree with that.


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In the end, though, if the treatment of this disabled young man was not a hate crime — for purposes of setting out charges — then Illinois’ hate crime law is an empty vessel.

A judge or jury may have to decide to what degree this was a crime motivated by hate, as opposed to sheer stupidity or meanness. Maybe, as a writer for Reason wrote, the defendants are “just deeply immature people who think hurting someone is funny.” But let’s understand why the charge of a hate crime is justified.

In the course of abusing their victim — tying him up, taping shut his mouth, forcing him to drink toilet water and cutting him with a knife — the defendants also allegedly made clear their animosity toward him as a white person. “F— white people,” they said, and “F— Trump.” They forced him to say, “I love black people.”

The defendants also were allegedly torturing a mentally disabled man — and that, too, can be a hate crime. The victim of a hate crime, according to the Illinois law, can be anybody targeted even in part because of their “race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability or national origin.”

We’ll eventually learn more about what happened here. Just how well did the victim and his attackers know each other? Was hate a primary motivation or was the taunting an afterthought?

But, at this stage, to charge the four defendants with a hate crime was entirely appropriate.

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