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Attack videos shared online spark curiosity, outrage

Jeremy Gorner, Kate Thayer and Rex W. Huppke, Chicago Tribune –

Video of a 17-year-old being kicked and punched repeatedly in a snow-covered alley in Chicago’s Armour Square grew into a viral Internet sensation, sparking online commentary that highlighted the awkward and often-disturbing unraveling of youthful conflicts in a wired world.

By Tuesday evening, a Facebook page condemning the attack had been created and “liked” by more than 5,000 people, many leaving vitriolic posts about how justice should be meted out on the attackers. The beating is just the latest of many acts, from simply boneheaded to clearly criminal, that youths have found worthy of recording and posting to a wider audience.

“Today our young people are experiencing this idea that unless their behavior is shared with the rest of the group, it doesn’t really count as something that happened,” said Glenn Sparks, a communications professor at Purdue University who studies the effects of mass media on people.

Investigators on Tuesday were questioning at least six teenagers. In the video, the attackers use several racial epithets while beating the young man, but police said the beating was not racially motivated.

The victim, a senior at Curie Metro High School on the Southwest Side, was taken to Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, where he was treated for bruises, abrasions and a cut lip.

The video — posted on YouTube — shows what appears to be six boys or young men punching and kicking the victim in the head, legs and back as he pleads for them to stop. The beating continues for several minutes, with one of the attackers taking shoes out of the victim’s backpack then dangling one of them in front of his face in a taunting manner.

Police said the attackers took the victim’s wallet and $180, as well as the shoes.

Throughout the day people online — some of whom claimed to know the youths involved in the attack — posted condemnations and crisscrossing theories on the assailants’ motives.

One young woman posted a rambling, four-and-a-half-minute YouTube video of her own saying: “I know what they did is wrong. … Regardless of the fact that it was wrong of them to do so, they had their reasons to go after him.”

Sparks said the public outpouring of emotion and outrage, as well as the decision by someone to post the violent act online, demonstrates how many young people have come to believe that all actions are worthy of dissemination.

“In the electronic age, the idea that we can share information instantaneously really transforms our basic identity from a private person to a more corporate person, a person who is a part of a group,” Sparks said.

“In order to be significant, the behavior has to be out there and readily available for everyone to have access to.”

Alan Krok, a veteran Chicago police detective, said videotaping a beating like the one in Armour Square demonstrates how ignorant young people can be about the consequences of their actions.

“Everybody sees it. That’s the evidence,” said Krok, who is not investigating the beating but speaks to high school and elementary school students across the city about crimes that are captured on video. “When it hits YouTube, (the youths involved in the crimes) don’t think the whole thing through.”

But some, he said, videotape their crimes for competition and bragging rights: “It’s kind of like an empowerment — ‘Here’s proof that we’re tough guys.'”

Last fall, a Chicago teenager was arrested on aggravated battery charges after a video surfaced of him punching a 56-year-old homeless man at a CTA Red Line stop more than six months earlier. Scotty Strahan, then 18, approached the man at the Chicago Avenue subway stop in April and punched him in the face while friends filmed the attack, according to police.

The recording was posted to the Internet in November, prompting investigators to find the homeless man, who then signed a criminal complaint. Strahan eventually turned himself in to police.

In Wall Township, N.J., not far from the Jersey Shore, two people were arrested last month after police were tipped to YouTube videos showing a homeless man being beaten in mid-December.

In the videos, David Ivins, 50, is punched and kicked by a man who police — with the help of the online images — identified as Taylor Giresi, 20.

Wall Township Lt. Walt Pomphrey said when they went to question Giresi that a juvenile he was with admitted recording the attacks on a cellphone.

“It was good for us,” Pomphrey said of the recording, explaining that without it, police might not have identified a suspect so soon.

In Franklin, Mass., last month, an online video showing a Dean College student being punched and beaten on the head with his own shoe led to the expulsions of nine students.

“It’s rather alarming to people who are more accustomed to a private world,” said Sparks, the Purdue professor. “We say: ‘What’s going on here? Why would you want to put that on the Internet?’ But for some of these younger people, their whole world is the Internet. Their first instinct is that everything is potentially shareable.”

Tribune reporter Dawn Rhodes contributed.


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