Black Lives Matter—the social change movement focused on racial equality and criminal justice reform—has nothing to do with the attack on a mentally disabled white teenager in Chicago.
The incident, which was streamed on Facebook Live, is horrific in its own right, regardless of the motive.
The four perpetrators, who are black, made comments like “fuck Donald Trump, fuck white people,” as they terrorized a defenseless white victim, who was tied up with tape over his mouth. They cut his hair until his scalp bled, and even threatened to kill him, apparently amused by his confusion and pain.
“If this had been done to an African American by four whites, every liberal in the country would be outraged, and there’d be no question but that it’s a hate crime,” observed Newt Gingrich.
The alt-right, in particular, agreed with him. The incident trended on Twitter as #BLMKidnapping.
Right-leaning media figures blaming the attack on BLM is no different than left-leaning media figures blaming Gabby Giffords’ attempted murder on Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, or Newtown on the National Rifle Association. It’s a guilt-by-association tactic deployed for the express purpose of demonizing entire groups for the actions of disturbed and unrelated individuals. The right is no better than the left here: both sides do it when it suits them.
Thus the benefit—and moral clarity—of the libertarian position: people are individually responsible for their actions, and actions—not thoughts, or manifestos, or ideological categorization—are what matter.
Addressing the conservative argument that the Chicago incident represents an anti-white or anti-Trump hate crime, The Washington Post writes:
If you believe discrimination against white people is rampant, that Donald Trump supporters face persecution, that Chicago is a war zone, and the media is dishonest, then your entire worldview is likely to be confirmed by one awful story. …
A Huffington Post survey conducted in November showed that 45 percent of Trump voters believe white people face “a lot of discrimination” in the United States today. Just 22 percent of Trump voters said the same about black people.
The result was consistent with the findings of researchers at Harvard and Tufts, whose 2011 study concluded that whites, overall, now view discrimination against white people as more prevalent than discrimination against black people.
“This perception is fascinating, as it stands in stark contrast to data on almost any outcome that has been assessed,” the researchers, Samuel Sommers and Michael Norton, wrote on the Post Everything blog in July. “From life expectancy to school discipline to mortgage rejection to police use of force, outcomes for white Americans tend to be — in the aggregate — better than outcomes for black Americans, often substantially so.”
The worldview of many Trump voters might not be supported by data. But now they can find support in one awful video out of Chicago.
The self-victimization of white Americans is no doubt one of the reasons Trump won: he promised to be the champion of white working class voters in Pennsylvania and Michigan who had traditionally supported Democrats. White people think things are worse for them than they actually are, and Trump has promised to do something about their perceived problems.
At the same time, I wish The Washington Post and other media outlets would apply the same scrutiny to the prevailing narrative that Trump’s election has directly resulted in a staggering increase in hate crimes. Both sides play the self-victimization game, but we should remember that crimes are perpetrated by individuals against other individuals. Spend more time being upset about an individual person’s abuse than being angry—or delighted—about the opportunity to assign blame to an entire identity group.
As to whether the incident in question is a hate crime, Symone Sanders—former press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders—said on CNN that it was premature to label it as such. Watch the video below.
Sanders characterizes the attack as “hateful,” but not necessarily a hate crime, because we don’t know whether the perpetrators were motivated by racial animus. If they were motivated by anti-Trump animus, then it isn’t a hate crime, in fact: hate crimes must involve targeted malice toward a protected class.
So Sanders is technically right, but the fact that she’s right serves as a powerful reminder of the utter futility of hate crime designations. It shouldn’t ultimately matter whether these people hurt the victim because he was white, or a Tump supporter, or disabled, or for any other reason. The reason doesn’t change the awfulness of the crime.