Facebook Live torture video: Labels blind us

Four charged for Facebook Live beating video
Four charged for Facebook Live beating video

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Story highlights

  • Recent Facebook Live video depicted a mentally disabled white man tortured by a group of black teens
  • Issac Bailey: While many have resorted to name-calling the teens since the attack, this is counter productive

Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)A recent video, broadcast on Facebook Live, shows a mentally disabled white man being tortured by a small group of black people yelling anti-white and anti-Trump statements. Discussion of the video quickly turned to who is to blame and how the crime, and those involved, should be labeled.

David French of The National Review reacted to the video this way:
"We live in an upside-down world when white racism and 'climates of hate' are such a problem that we now police microaggressions, yet the same cultural mandarins who shudder when they hear 'make America great again' positively thrill to the beats of songs that celebrate spilling blood in the streets. When you celebrate thugs, you get more thugs."
    Issac Bailey
    The implication from French and others is clear. When you excuse bad behavior because of culture or political correctness or out of fear, you seed the ground for worse behavior. That's why properly labeling such events is crucial, they argue. We can no longer afford to be squeamish.
    They've asked if Black Lives Matter is indirectly responsible for what happened on the video because that group, which has relentlessly pursued policies to reduce police violence, has had fringe members and supporters, and even leaders, say disgusting things. (Authorities say there is no link between the torture episode and the activist group.)
    Is it gangsta rap's fault, given that the celebration of thugs leads to more thugs? Are people like me responsible because we've been unapologetically reminding the American public that Donald Trump's rise to national political power was fueled by bigotry?
    To underscore the futility of blanket labels, I'll answer those questions with a few of my own. Is the cop who shot Walter Scott in the back as Scott ran away a thug? What about the Chicago cops who spent years torturing young black men? Or the cops who shot Laquan McDonald on the streets of Chicago and covered up that crime?
    Just as French and others assert that a culture that too frequently looks the other way can lead to more thugs on the streets, the actions of bad cops tend to taint the authority of all cops, undermining a city's sense of order.
    Americans in black neighborhoods tend to make fewer calls to 911 after a publicized bad act by a police officer because the police are seen as threats, not protectors. The less cooperation there is between police and residents, the easier it will be for criminals to roam free longer and cause more harm. That's one of many reasons to hold police more accountable -- no matter if you label them all thugs or heroes.
    Most people responding to the ugly Facebook video from suburban Chicago aren't responding to that video -- not really. They are absorbing just enough of it to bolster whatever view of the world they desperately want to believe, or to deflect its disturbing nature for the same reason. The nuance of truth is often lost in such environments.
    When I look at that video, here is what I see:
    I see an already vulnerable white man being treated as though he was little more than an abandoned animal, his white privilege unable to protect him from that onslaught. I see a group of young black people so lost in anger, in things I can't know, appear convinced that doing the unthinkable was a proper outlet and not an excuse to commit an evil act.
    I saw the same thing in Dylann Roof, who is on trial for his life this week. His crime was magnitudes worse than what happened in Chicago and massively different in outcome, but borne of the same ugliness.
    I see a public desperate for easy answers to complex situations, and race in America is among the most difficult phenomena to dissect. Yes, the victim's apparent mental disability mattered. Yes, the perpetrator's anti-white, anti-Trump words mattered. His race and their race mattered. There is no conflict in acknowledging all of that, and more.
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    But neither that acknowledgment nor any bumper sticker labels will get us any closer to figuring out how to bridge our divides.
    If we reduce the perpetrators in that video to just being violent thugs -- or label cops the same way -- would that solve the problem of police brutality?
    Would it reduce the likelihood that such a horrific incident would be repeated? Would it increase the level of trust between the police and the communities they are paid to protect?
    No, it wouldn't. What might -- just might -- be needed instead is an embrace of the nuance of truth instead of holding fast to superficial labels which do more to obscure than reveal.