Bridgeport attack: Not racially motivated? Think again.

January 18, 2012|By Jane Huang, RedEye special contributor

Bridgeport, the neighborhood where I grew up, doesn't show up in the news a lot. It is a fairly quiet community that Chicagoans probably know best as home of the White Sox and the late Richard J. Daley, but for the next couple of days, it will likely be most notorious as the place where six teenagers beat up and robbed an Asian high school senior.

By now, you've probably seen or at least heard of the YouTube video of the attack. Even British tabloid The Daily Mail has picked up the story. What is most appalling about the video is that the group of teenagers seems to be putting on a show for the camera. By the start of the video, the victim is already on the ground. The teenagers could easily have robbed him at that point if all they were after was some cash. Instead, you get close-up, (mostly) smooth shots of the attack for more than three minutes. The person holding the camera also tracks the action so that the victim is centered in the frame. At certain points, he or she even zooms in or walks closer to get a better shot of the action. 

Anytime a minority is the victim of an attack like this, the first thing that a lot of people are going to wonder is whether it was a hate crime. However, according to several news sources, including the Chicago Tribune, police have said that they do not think the beating was "racially motivated." Well, now my mind is at ease.

Wait, no it isn't. Did the people who judged the attack not to be "racially motivated" see the same video as everyone else? I suppose that the police cannot describe the crime as racially motivated right now because there are probably specific legal criteria that have to be met. However, I am not sure why it is necessary to assert explicitly that there doesn't appear to have been racial motivation when the investigation hasn't ended yet.

YouTube has removed the audio from many copies of the video for its offensive language, which is a move that I disagree with because the full video reveals a great amount of cruelty from the attackers that the censored video manages to diminish. On the full version, you can clearly hear the attackers repeatedly calling the victim the n-word, including one person asking him, "Am I speaking Chinese to you, n-----?" I find it hard to imagine the kinds of situations in which one can shout racial slurs at someone and not be considered racist.

Is it because the victim was of Asian descent? Admittedly, the n-word is not one of the more common slurs hurled at Asians. However, bigots hardly have a reputation for striving to ensure the accuracy of their insults. Since Asians are frequently touted as the "model minority," perhaps people don't see them as an ethnic group that faces racism in the U.S. This perception is obviously inaccurate; a particularly upsetting story in the news lately was about eight soldiers being charged after racially-tinged harassment drove 19-year-old Lieutenant Danny Chen to suicide. The Wall Street Journal, however, skeptically chose the headline "New Details in Soldier's Abuse'," as though what happened to Danny Chen didn't qualify as scare-quote-free abuse.

This time, though, the media don't seem to be minimizing the severity of the attack in any way. Some copies of the video on YouTube claim to identify the attackers, who appear to be a mix of boys of white and Asian descent. However, the fact that there may have been Asian attackers doesn't make the crime any less racist. In the video, the victim speaking in halting English only seems to further enrage one of his attackers, who shouts at him in fluent, though very crude, English. I hope that the perpetrators are caught and given punishments proportional to their actions.

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