Torture Broadcast Online and the Ensuing Blame-Game

This post makes reference to and includes links to disturbing and violent content. The language quoted in this post may be offensive to some.

Mainstream news outlets like CNN and the Washington Post have been reporting today on the shocking Facebook Live footage of a young man being tortured by four other people while tied up in a Chicago apartment. The young man is described by authorities as having “mental health problems” according to the Washington Post. The four suspects have been charged with felony aggravated kidnapping, aggravated unlawful restraint, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, and a hate crime. The full and uncensored video can be found at Vice.com. Among other disturbing things, one can hear the assailants forcing the young man to say “Fuck Donald Trump.”

While these kinds of evils are difficult to process, what can also be hard to swallow is the partisan reactions to them. Paul Joseph Watson of InfoWars.com seems to have been the source of the hashtag #BLMKidnapping to “get the story trending.” His Twitter feed defends the association of the Black Lives Matter movement (which he refers to as an ideology) with the hate crime. It should be pointed out that at this point there is no concrete connection between the Black Lives Matter movement and this attack. Any direct association between the two does not seem to be based on any available evidence and arguments to that effect rely on extrapolations. 

On CNN Tonight with Don Lemon, panelist  Symone Sanders, former Press Secretary for Bernie Sanders, made the claim that such behavior as was on display in the video was a result of the kind of rhetoric espoused during the 2016 presidential election. The implication seems to be that President Elect Trump’s behavior may have contributed to something like this. 

I struggle to form words to express my frustration on two levels. The first level is righteous anger that human beings would be so terrible to another human being. The second level of frustration stems from the fact that this travesty is being used by some to be politically divisive. In an otherwise healthy society, atrocities like this one would produce solidarity. Instead of unified condemnation, the conversation has already devolved into wild speculation, with the blame being laid at the feet of political opponents. 

It may very well be true that this crime is the result of a particular political climate, or that one or more ideologies motivated it. We simply do not know yet, and for people of influence to publicly attempt to shape the narrative around this story before facts are available is irresponsible. 

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