Hate crimes charges over live-streamed Chicago assault

(Clockwise from top left) Brittany Covington, Jordan Hill, Tanishia Covington and Tesfaye Cooper.
(Clockwise from top left) Brittany Covington, Jordan Hill, Tanishia Covington and Tesfaye Cooper. PHOTOS: CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT

CHICAGO (AFP) - Chicago prosecutors filed hate crime and other felony charges Thursday (Jan 5) against four people accused of holding captive and assaulting a man with special needs in a racially charged attack broadcast live on Facebook.

Video of the assault shows a terrified young white man cowering in the corner of a room as four black attackers taunt and beat him, at times yelling "F*** Donald Trump" and "F*** white people."

Police have yet to say whether the victim - who knew at least one of his assailants from school - was targeted because of his race, politics, or because he had special needs.

But thousands of social media users, including far-right commentators, claimed without offering evidence that it was linked to the Black Lives Matter movement born in protest at police shootings of African Americans.

In the 30-minute video - which quickly spread online - the two female and two male attackers are seen cutting off parts of the victim's clothes, hitting him, and hacking off some of his hair at the scalp, causing bleeding.

Police identified the four suspects as Jordan Hill, Tesfaye Cooper, Brittany Covington - all 18 years old - and Tanishia Covington, who is 25.

All four face multiple felony charges, including for kidnapping, battery and hate crimes. The hate crime charge alone carries a sentence of at least a year in prison.

Police did not reveal the identity of the victim, who in the video appeared to be tied up and had duct tape over his mouth.

"It's sickening," Chicago police chief Eddie Johnson said at a news conference Wednesday evening. "The images in the video put on display the brazenness of the offenders who assaulted the victim and then broadcast it for the entire world to see."

The victim, who was found by police walking near the scene of the attack, was recovering after being released from hospital, authorities said, describing him as traumatised by the ordeal.

Police said the victim had likely been with the attackers for at least 24 hours and as many as 48 hours.

The victim's parents reported him missing on Monday in their Chicago suburb, and later received text messages saying their son was being held captive, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Conservative US media personality Glenn Beck was among those who tied the attack directly to the Black Lives Matter movement.

"Stand up with me and demand justice in Chicago for the beating of a disabled trump (sic) supporter by BLM," Beck tweeted Wednesday night.

Many similar messages were posted under the hashtag #BLMKidnapping.

Chicago-based civil rights leader Jesse Jackson issued a statement refuting any link to the movement.

"This uncivilized act of brutality broadcast on Facebook Live has nothing to do with our social or civil rights struggle. This is a sickness and is widely rejected," he said.

"No one affirms this insane and savage cruelty. It is a moral and spiritual collapse." Jedidiah Brown, an African-American community activist in Chicago, said on Facebook that the city's notorious gun violence epidemic, which claimed more than 750 lives in 2016, was part of the problem.

"We in Chicago have embraced such a violent culture," Brown said. "I think we're failing this next generation that's coming up behind us."