Hate crime and battery charges have been filed against four black suspects accused of beating a mentally disabled white man and broadcasting the attack live on Facebook.

"The actions in that video are reprehensible; that along with racism have absolutely no place in the city of Chicago," said police Supt. Eddie Johnson. 

"There was never a question whether or not this incident qualified as being investigated as a hate crime," Johnson said. But, he added, "we need to base the investigation based on facts and not emotion."

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Police said officers on patrol encountered the 18-year-old, seen here in a still taken from the video, on a street not far from a residence on Chicago's West Side. (Facebook)

Most hate crimes are connected to the victim's race, but hate-crime charges can be sought in Illinois if a victim's mental disability sparked an attack, though it is rare.

Hate-crime charges can only be sought if another charge is filed.

The accused include Jordan Hill, 18, who was an acquaintance of the victim, sisters Brittany and Tanishia Covington, aged 18 and 24, and Tesfaye Cooper, 18. The four have also been charged with aggravated unlawful restraint and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Three of the suspects also face charges of residential burglary.

At a news conference on Thursday afternoon, police said the victim had been friends with one of the suspects, Hill, of suburban Chicago. They said that on New Year's Eve, Hill and the victim met up at a suburban McDonald's to begin what both the victim and his parents, who dropped him off, believed was going to be a sleepover.

U.S. President Barack Obama called it "terrible" during a Thursday interview with Chicago's ABC-TV affiliate.
 
"Part of what technology allows us to see now is the terrible toll that racism and discrimination and hate takes on
families and communities," Obama said.

Victim 'traumatized by the incident'

Police said Hill drove the victim around in a stolen van for a couple of days. They ended up at a home in Chicago, where police said Hill and the three other suspects taunted the victim and beat him.

Police in Streamwood, Ill., said the parents reported their son missing Monday, and later the parents received text messages from people who claimed to be holding their son captive.

The victim was a classmate of one of the attackers and initially went with that person voluntarily, police said.

Police launched an investigation late Wednesday — after the video appeared online and the 18-year-old victim was found by police, dazed and bloodied, wandering in a violent neighbourhood of Chicago's West Side. 

The video, which has since been removed from Facebook, shows several people assaulting and taunting the man, who appears to be bound and gagged in a residence.

"He's traumatized by the incident, and it's very tough to communicate with him at this point," police Cmdr. Kevin Duffin said. The suspects made "stupid decisions," he said.

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Chicago police Cmdr. Kevin Duffin speaks during a news conference Thursday as Supt. Eddie Johnson, far left, looks on. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune via Associated Press)

Johnson called it "sickening." 

"It makes you wonder what would make individuals treat somebody like that," told reporters on Wednesday. 

"I've been a cop for 28 years. I've seen things you shouldn't see in a lifetime. But it still amazes me how you still see things that you just shouldn't."

The assailants are seen hitting the victim, slicing his clothing and cutting his hair until his scalp bleeds. Profanities about "white people" and U.S. president-elect Donald Trump are heard from off-camera.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said investigators initially concluded that the 18-year-old man was singled out because he has "special needs," not because he was white, although Guglielmi acknowledged the suspects made "terrible racist statements."

It's also possible that the suspects were trying to extort something from the victim's family, Guglielmi said.

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Chicago police officer Mike Donnelly speaks at a news conference Thursday. Donnelly says the victim was found walking the streets bloodied and wearing a tank top that was inside-out and backwards. (Teresa Crawford/Associated Press)

The video shows bottles of alcohol in the room during the attack.

The victim told police that what began as "a play fight" escalated, and he was bound, beaten and taunted with racial slurs and disparaging comments about his mental capacity.

A downstairs neighbour who heard noises threatened to call police. When two of the suspects left and kicked down the neighbour's door, the victim escaped. A police officer later spotted the obviously disoriented man wandering down a street.

The victim was bloodied and wearing a tank top that was inside-out and backwards. He had on jean shorts and sandals, despite the winter weather, officer Michael Donnelly said.

A Facebook spokesman told The Associated Press the company removed the video because it does "not allow people to celebrate or glorify crimes on Facebook."