Before Chicago law enforcement authorities decided to charge four young black people with the kidnapping and torture of an 18-year-old white man, several television commentators asserted that the assailants acted out of stupidity rather than racist hatred. For example, CNN political commentator Symone Sanders -- who worked on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign -- argued in a January 4 CNN appearance that the suspects’ behavior was the result of hatred on the campaign trail. Instead of focusing on the suspects and their actions, Sanders said that the media should condemn President-elect Donald Trump, for what she said is his inflammatory rhetoric.
On January 6, NBC News correspondent Ron Mott told MSNBC’s Craig Melvin, “You look at it on the surface, you think kids can make some really poor decisions from time to time. They made so many errors, if they were truly trying to be criminal, to obviously broadcast your crime is not a smart thing to do.”
Sanders said, “I just want to remind folks that we cannot sit here and ignore that — at least for the last year on very public display — the worst parts of America have been brought from the fringe into the mainstream. That affects people on both sides. We’ve talked about white nationalists and white supremacists and the KKK, but there also, when this inflammatory rhetoric is out there when someone is repeatedly telling you that your community is the worst of the worst, it brings out the worst of the worst in people.”
On January 6, four suspects — Brittany Covington, 18; Jordan Hill, 18; Tesfaye Cooper; 18; and Tanishia Covington, 24 — were each charged with a hate crime along with felony aggravated kidnapping, aggravated battery, and aggravated unlawful restraint.
Sanders said, however, she believes the assault has been mislabeled. One of the suspects broadcast the torture and abuse of the victim in Facebook video, which showed that the four accused suspects yelled f**k Donald Trump” and “f**k white people.” The victim has been identified as a mentally challenged adult. He was acquainted with one of the suspects, who took him from the suburbs to Chicago for what he anticipated was a sleep-over.
“That is not a hate crime. Hate crimes are because of a person’s racial ethnicity, their religion, their gender, a disability, it isn’t your political leanings because someone doesn’t like your political leanings and they do something bad to you, that is not a hate crime,” she said.
Sanders would not acknowledge that the suspects seemed to go after the victim because of his race. Mott said he believes the suspects acted as criminals and not racists.
Mott said, “When you add in the criminal element here, the fact that they stole someone’s vehicle, the fact that they apparently broke into a house where this alleged attack took place, the fact that they, you know, physically harmed this young person, held him against his will and then apparently, you know, texted the parents demanding some sort of monetary exchange to send him home, it goes beyond just stupid decisions by kids.”
However, on the evening of January 6, Sanders appeared to modify her stance. She said that the suspects did engage in a hate crime and that she had based her earlier remarks when she “didn’t have all the details.”
When host Anderson Cooper asked her, “You see it now as a hate crime?” Sanders answered, “I definitely do. I have seen all the details.” She said that the nations is “having the wrong conversation” and that there should be a conversation on how it reached this point.
For his part, President Barack Obama said today that the attack in Chicago was "despicable."