In January, a brutal crime shocked the nation in the days before Donald Trump was inaugurated. Four black individuals abducted an 18-year-old mentally challenged white man, brutally tormenting him with punches, kicks, and taunts while slicing off hunks of his hair with a knife and tearing off his clothing. They broadcast their crime on Facebook. Perpetrators Jordan Hill, Tesfaye Cooper, Brittany Covington, and Tanishia Covington, shouted “F**k white people!” and “F**k Trump!” while they brutalized the sobbing young man. One of them cut a patch out of the victim’s scalp.
Before the attack, the victim thought of at least one of the assailants as a friend. The torture lasted for at least 30 minutes.
After they were apprehended, the four assailants were charged with hate crime, felony aggravated kidnapping, aggravated unlawful restraint, and aggravated battery with a dealy weapon. Hill, Cooper, and Brittany Covington are also facing charges of residential burglary. Hill faces a charge of possession of a stolen motor vehicle. Tanishia Covington is 24, while the others are 18.
The assault and abduction raised questions nationwide about the labeling of such incidents as hate crimes. Some linked the violence to the Black Lives Matter movement. Within hours, for example, the hashtag #BLMKidnapping was mentioned more than 480,000 times on Twitter. Afterwards, Chicago police claimed that they saw no connection to the Black Lives Matter movement. DeRay Mckesson, a prominent Black Lives Matter supporter who is employed by the city of Baltimore, Maryland, wrote on Twitter that those linking the attack to Black Lives Matter are uninformed. He wrote: "It goes without saying that the actions being branded by the far-right as the 'BLM Kidnapping' have nothing to do w/ the movement."
Barack Obama said the attack was “despicable” and suggested that there was evidence of a hate crime. He told CNN, "What we have seen as surfacing, I think, are a lot of problems that have been there a long time.” He added, "Whether it's tensions between police and communities, hate crimes of the despicable sort that has just now recently surfaced on Facebook." He went on, "The good news is that the next generation that's coming behind us ... have smarter, better, more thoughtful attitudes about race."
According to the city of Chicago's website, "Hate crimes are acts of bigotry, and are committed because of the intended victim's actual or perceived ancestry, color, creed, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability (including HIV status), or national origin. Hate crimes not only harm the victim, but also the group in which the targeted member belongs." State law in Illinois indicates that hate can be considered an aggravating factor in a criminal charge and can result in a more severe sentence.
However, despite the repeated racist statements by the perpetrators and earlier reports that they would face hate crime charges, a webpage on the Cook County website’s pages listing mates tells a different story.
An Individual Inmate Report for Tanishia L. Covington shows that the charges against her are for "Aggravated Kidnaping/Ransom." There is no mention of hate crimes. Covington is one of the four changed in the January abduction and torture of the mentally handicapped man. The next court date listed for her is December 14.
Spero News also did a search at the same website for Jordan Hill, another teen involved in the assault. There were no hate crimes listed for him, either.
Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.