One word rushed to my mind when I saw four hoodlums brutally torturing a mentally challenged teenager in Chicago.
No, it wasn’t hate. It was evil.
In a fair and just world, it shouldn’t matter that the victim was white and all four assailants were black, any more than it matters whether the nine people Dylann Roof shot and killed in a South Carolina church were black.
Evil is evil: It never likes what or whom it comes to destroy. That’s why decent people of all stripes, no matter where you are, must call it what it is and stand lock step against it.
But in the eyes of the law, not to mention in the court of public opinion, race adds an unsettling dimension to wickedness and raises an inevitable legal question: Was it a hate crime?
In Roof’s case, there’s no doubt that his racist beliefs propelled him to murder nine innocent people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., in the summer of 2015. He acknowledged he wanted to start a race war.
Roof was unapologetic, too, for the lives he took and the grief he caused.
“I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did,” Roof wrote in a jailhouse journal seized by authorities, according to the New York Times. “I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”
In Chicago, meanwhile, at least one of the four ruffians who physically and verbally assaulted an 18-year-old, going so far as to cut his hair and scalp with scissors and force him to drink toilet water, uttered racist rants.
“F — Donald Trump!” one of them shouted at one point in a video that was brazenly streamed on Facebook Live, which led to their arrest. “F — white people!”
Hate crime charges, in addition to a multitude of other charges, were filed because the victim appears to have been targeted based on his race and/or his mental disability, both of which are covered under the state’s hate crime statutes.
A Cook County judge ordered all four to be held without bail, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“I’m looking at each of you and wondering where was the sense of decency that each of you should have had?” Judge Maria Kuriakos Ciesil said. “I don’t see it.”
The fact that this happened in Chicago, of all places — and caused such a widespread outrage — is ironic given all the black-on-black violence that’s been going on year after year, decade after decade.
And yet, even in a city where violence is commonplace — 762 homicides last year alone, a nearly two-decade high — this particular case left many scratching their heads and wondering how humans could stoop so low.
“Sickening” and “reprehensible” is how Chicago’s top cop, Eddie Johnson, described it. “Despicable” and “horrific” is what President Obama called it.
I won’t quibble with any of that. Each has a tragic, if not poetic, ring to it.
But think how morally depraved someone must be to not only torture another person but then have the gall to, as Johnson put it, “broadcast it for the entire world to see.”
It’s not the moral equivalence of gunning down someone — or nine people attending a Bible study class, as Roof did — but it’s evil, no less.
“It makes you wonder what would make individuals treat somebody like that,” Johnson said. “I’ve been a cop for 28 years, and I’ve seen things that you shouldn’t see in a lifetime. But it still amazes me how you still see things you just shouldn’t. I’m not going to say it shocked me, but it was sickening.”
What we can’t do is let those who trade in hate and violence continue to turn us against each other.
Already, we’ve seen some misguided souls shamelessly blaming the Black Lives Matter movement for the handiwork of four malevolent souls, just to stir things up.
Luckily, most folks are taking the high road, including the victim’s family.
“We’re so grateful for all the prayers and efforts that led to the safe return of our brother,” the victim’s brother-in-law, David Boyd, said, according to the local ABC station in Chicago. “We’re fully aware of the charges being brought against the offenders. At this time, we ask for continued prayers for all those involved, for our family’s privacy as we cope and heal.”
A group of black pastors also condemned the attack, vowing to pray for and solicit donations for the victim’s family.
What those four suspects did, said the Rev. Ira Acree of the Greater St. John Bible Church in Chicago, “is not a representation of the African-American race in Chicago at all.”
Nor, for that matter, is Dylann Roof’s deranged violence a fair representation of all whites in South Carolina.
What both incidents should remind us is that hate comes in all colors, yet always looks and feels the same — sickening, reprehensible, despicable and horrific.
In a word: evil.
James Ragland is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. Readers may e-mail him at email@example.com.