CNN’s Don Lemon hosted an on-air discussion on the video showing four young people torturing a mentally-challenged young man. When Matt Lewis suggested the behavior in the video was “evil” and represented “man’s inhumanity to man,” Lemon jumped in to dispute it. “I don’t think it’s evil,” Lemon said. “I think these are young people and they have bad home training,” he added.
Bad home training? That sounds like something you say when a person drinks milk directly from the plastic jug or a man fails to lift the toilet seat before urinating. But Lemon continued to suggest it was about parenting. “I have no idea who is raising these young people because no one I know on earth who is 17-years-old or 70-years-old would ever think of treating another person like that,” he said. “And you wonder, at 18-years-old, where is the parent?” he continued.
It’s fair to ask where the parents were but no one should need a special talk to grasp that kidnap and torture of a helpless person for 24 to 48 hours is wrong. While Lemon’s phrasing (“bad home training”) is ridiculous, at least he seems to be placing responsibility in the vicinity of the four individuals who attacked a helpless man.
Meanwhile, CNN contributor Symone Sanders had another idea who was to blame. “We can not sit here and ignore that for, at least for the last year, on very public display the worst parts of American have been brought from the fringe into the mainstream,” Sanders said. “So that affects people on both sides,” she continued.
“We’ve talked about white nationalists and white supremacists and the KKK but when this inflammatory rhetoric is out there, when someone is telling you that your community is the worst of the worst, um, it brings out the worst of the worst in people. And so I’m not defending what they did. What these young people did was sickening. I would argue that they also need some help in addition to some consequences but this just didn’t come out of thin air.”
In case it’s not clear, Sanders is arguing that a climate of hate is responsible for what was seen on the video. But it’s not just any climate of hate, it’s the white nationalists and the KKK. And her reference to someone “telling you that your community is the worst of the worst” might even be a reference to comments Donald Trump made during the campaign.
Needless to say, this is a curious explanation for radicalized violence by a group of black teens. White nationalists should certainly be held accountable for their rhetoric and violence and maybe even for violence they inspire in like-minded people (such as the murder of 9 black parishioners by racist Dylann Roof). But it seems unlikely any of the attackers in the torture video were spending much time imbibing ideas from white nationalist web sites.
Just last month a course on the “problem of whiteness” became national news after a legislator in Wisconsin complained about it. The professor teaching that course had earlier tweeted this after the shooting of police officers in Dallas, TX:
Is the uprising finally starting? Is this style of protest gonna go viral? pic.twitter.com/z0Kjgqbq4Q
— ProfessorD.us (@profd) July 8, 2016
I’m not suggesting that the individuals in the torture video were fans of a particular professor or author. For instance, I doubt any of them have ever heard of Symone Sanders. I’m also not saying that discussing legitimate racial issues is in any way inappropriate. I am saying that if the climate of hate argument is to be taken seriously then it has to cut both ways. If people can be inspired to pull off a woman’s hijab by hateful right-wing rhetoric, then people can also be inspired to kidnapping and torture by hateful left-wing rhetoric.
We don’t know at this point that rhetoric had anything to do with this incident. Lemon himself made this point saying, “These young people probably never watch the news…probably have no idea really who Donald Trump is.” Maybe he’s right, though statements made in the video suggest otherwise. In any case, if the kidnappers absorbed hate from the climate around them, it probably was coming from hateful and extreme voices on the left. There are plenty of them out there.