This is one of those news stories that is too disturbing to ignore. While we as a nation have made great strides in racial harmony it shows just how far we still have to go. And I fear that–if world history is any indication–that we may never get there. According to the story in the Chicago Tribune:
"The three teens, who are white, allegedly put a noose around the neck of (Joshua) Merritt, who is black, and hurled racial epithets at him before one of the boys held a knife to his throat and threatened to kill him, police and Merritt said Thursday."
This isn't something that happened in the racially charged environment of the Civil Rights Movement in the South. It happened last month in the Chicago neighborhood of East Beverly. It seems that the three white teens were upset that Merritt was dating a white girl. So they lured Merritt over to one teen's house and then proceeded to engage in an activity that was assuredly meant to convey the image of a lynching. Fortunately Merritt was able to escape without any serious physical harm.
Unfortunately there is assuredly other longterm harm that has been done. There is longterm harm that has been done to Merritt and to other within the minority community as well. Lynchings were not designed to just punish one person. They are meant to send a message to a whole group of people. It is also unfortunate that while it is a shocking and surprising story, it really isn't nearly as surprising as it should be.
I find it interesting that only one of the three teens was charged as an adult. They were all charged with very serious crimes and this cannot be merely passed off as teen boys being teen boys. This crossed a line. The two younger teens (16 and 17 years old) are old enough to know that they crossed that line and not by a little bit. Although I have to admit that I am not a legal expert and do not fully know what the difference will be for those two young men being charged as juveniles rather than adults.
The other thing that I find interesting is that all three are charged with committing a "hate crime." I understand what is meant by the term "hate crime" but I have always felt that it is a very poor term. All crime comes from some sort of hate. In fact all crimes comes from some sort of prejudice as well–a love of self that is far greater than a love for others. In this case the crime was allegedly* motivated by the fact that the three white teens disapproved of the behavior of Merritt simply because he was not white. And anytime a crime is committed for this type of reason we have a very serious problem.
The very heart of the problem is that there is a problem with the heart. We can make laws that make racially or other prejudicially motivated decisions illegal. We can create educational programs that work towards teaching others about these issues. We can do all sorts of things to try and right these wrongs. But we cannot get into someone's heart. We cannot make these changes for someone. We see racially motivated crimes and wars happening all around the world. Some of them have been going on for thousands and thousands of years. And this is why this particular crime isn't as surprising as I would hope it to be.
There is a young man with hopes and dreams that now has to deal with something that no one regardless of age, race or creed should ever have to deal with. While we can deal swiftly and harshly with the men that put a literal noose around this young man's neck, this story is a reminder that dealing with the figurative noose is still a longterm and uphill battle.
*I use the term allegedly not to convey any doubt about whether or not I believe that these crimes were racial in nature. I have no doubt that they were. Rather I use the term because they have not yet been convicted in a court of law.