Column

Olson: Ugly video no excuse for ugly commentary

There’s been some argument about whether the actions depicted in the videos of a white teenager tied up and tormented by four black people – three of them teens – in Chicago this week should be classified as a hate crime.

There was a push for it to be labeled as such, and that’s the angle that the media has often played up.

But were I among the four accused, whether it was classified as a hate crime or not wouldn’t top my list of worries. In Illinois, a hate crime carries a penalty of one to three years in prison.

The most serious charge that the four people face in connection with this week’s incident is aggravated kidnapping, which carries a six- to 30-year prison sentence.

There you have the disconnect between the sensational and the real. Aggravated kidnapping is a much more serious accusation, but a “hate crime” plays into the racial narrative that’s worked its way into this story of a mentally ill teenager from Crystal Lake who was bound, gagged and abused by four captors in a Chicago apartment.

This is a case where the legal system has it more correct than the general public. The truth is that it doesn’t matter what the race of the victim or the perpetrators was – anyone who has seen the videos agrees that the acts they depict are wrong.

There are no sides to choose. There is no reason to try to politicize this crime by pinning it on the Black Lives Matter movement. No one is entitled to throw out racial stereotypes and slurs on social media.

As a society, we can agree that what was shown on the video was criminal behavior. The perpetrators themselves documented the crime and they’re almost certain to face consequences for it.

Some of the tormentors on the video said cuss words about white people and Donald Trump, which led people to push for it to be labeled a hate crime. The law also says that attacks on people who are mentally disabled can be hate crimes, and the victim suffers from schizophrenia and attention deficit disorder.

But the victim had been hanging out with these people when they turned on him. They didn’t abduct him off the street at random because he was white. The victim told police they tied him up after a play fight got out of hand.

But hate crime or no, the broader point is that it’s a serious crime, one that would be abhorrent regardless of the race of the victim or the accused.

It shouldn’t be politicized.

• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, and a former sports, business and community editor at the Northwest Herald. Email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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