River North late-night beatdown a hate crime? It’s complicated

Two white men brutally beaten and robbed in River North raises concerns about hate crimes.

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Police responded to an attack early Saturday morning in the 400 block of North State Street.

Police responded to an attack early Saturday morning in the 400 block of North State Street.

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If two Black men were beaten and robbed of their cell phones, wallets and shoes in the middle of Rush Street while a crowd of white people danced, there would be hell to pay.

Police would turn the city upside down looking for the perpetrators, and activists would demand hate crime charges be filed immediately against the attackers.

Although we still have much work to do to heal the wounds of our nation’s racist past, the brutal death of George Floyd, a Black man at the hands of a white police officer, motivated people of all races to stand up against such evil.

Young activists, in particular, are on it.

After a video went viral of a white Chicago police officer maltreating a young Black woman walking her dog at North Avenue Beach last weekend, a small group of protesters marched outside the Civilian Office of Police Accountability to demand justice.

It is no longer rare that you see white protesters marching side by side with Black protesters agitating for justice for the Black victims of police brutality.

But when the victims of racial hatred are white, the reckoning gets muddled.

For instance, last Saturday, in the 400 block of North State Street, a crowd of Black partiers stood by in the after-hours while several Black attackers beat two white men unconscious and stole their possessions.

No one rushed to help the white victims.

In fact, cars drove slowly around the mayhem as if motorists were navigating around an ordinary traffic jam.

The video of the beatdown was painful to watch, not only because of the violence it depicted but also because of the nonchalant attitude of the people witnessing this crime.

Someone’s son could have died in the street that night, but women twerked like they were at the club, and people took videos of the crime scene.

One reader raised a concern about this incident that I’m sure is on the minds of others.

“Many of the people I associate with are calling this a hate crime. When I watch it, I see their point…I see black criminals attacking white pedestrians in plain sight, unprovoked, and obviously because they are white,” the reader said.

But street crimes are crimes of opportunity.

Did the attackers go after these men because of their race or because of their vulnerability?

If the two white men who wandered into that crowd were Asian or Latino, would they have been victimized?


Because what I see on that video are thugs who preyed on people they perceived to be weaker than them.

It wasn’t even a fight between combatants.

It was an assault against two individuals who had the misfortune of stumbling into a bad crowd.

Kenneth Gunn, first deputy commissioner of the city’s Human Relations Commission, who saw the video, said just because the victim and the attackers are different races doesn’t make it a hate crime.

It will be up to the police to determine whether a hate crime has been committed.

“The police take the report and make an initial determination, and it goes to the CPD Civil Rights Unit. They will do the investigation. We are here to offer assistance to hate crime victims to see what services they need,” Gunn explained.

“We don’t know if this was a hate crime. We don’t know what caused the fight or if it was about race. If the police determine it was about race, they will get it to us,” he said.

If you’re a white person watching these events unfold, of course, you’d see it as a hate crime.

That’s one reason why police should have the same sense of urgency to find answers in this assault that you see when victims are Black and their attackers are white.

For that matter, there should be the same display of community outrage over this brazen crime that you see when white extremists victimize Black and Brown people.

We can’t ignore race. We have to deal with it.

All Chicagoans should be able to enjoy the city’s nightlife without worrying about being set upon by low-life thieves.

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