Subjective hate crime laws ruin innocent lives, obscure the suffering of genuine victims and suffocate free speech in the process. Our political leaders are too cowardly to do anything, so we must take direct action
Hate crimes – real, actual crimes perpetrated against a victim based on their race, gender, sexuality or other innate characteristic – are abhorrent and deserve to be strictly punished and noted by judges and politicians whenever worrying new trends start to emerge.
However, it is very hard to take new reports warning of a post-Brexit spike in UK hate crimes seriously, because actions taken by leftist campaigners and their authoritarian friends in government over the years have devalued the very definition of a hate crime to the point where it is now meaningless.
Headlines bemoaning the supposed spike in hate crimes recorded after the heinous terror attacks in Britain ignore the fact that hate crimes are entirely in the eye of the beholder in modern Britain, with anybody able to report a hate crime and trigger a police investigation based on how they feel about something they witness. The relentless march of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics also means that our sensitivity to what constitutes a “hate crime” is always increasing, and not just among identity politics zealots – politicians and civic leaders who increasingly fear their power now also transmit the same message. Walk into any public library in Britain and you will see the procedure for reporting a hate crime incident to the local police prominently displayed.
All of this might not be so bad if rapidly expanding the dragnet actually resulted in more convictions, more genuinely bad people being called to account for genuinely bad actions. But this is not the case – hate crime prosecutions actually fell year-on year. This suggests that either hate crimes are actually going down while our sensitivity to hearing things we dislike is going through the roof, or genuine cases of hate crime are now being drowned out and not given needed attention by the police and Crown Prosecution Service because of the volume of stupid referrals they now have to deal with. I suspect that both of these scenarios are partly true.
The problem, at its core, is that unlike other criminal law, hate crime laws as written are entirely subjective. If I rob a bank and speed away with a bundle of bank notes there is no doubt as to the nature and severity of the crime I committed, as determined by the value of the goods. Similarly, if I assault somebody in the street and seriously injure them I can have no complaints when I am then charged according to the severity of the harm that I inflict.
This is not the case with hate crimes. Besides the obvious fact that they scrutinise an individual for what is in their heart at the time of the incident rather than the consequences of their action, focusing on the motivation rather than the crime itself, whether I am called to account for my actions depends on how they are perceived by other people. It is entirely possible that a harmless interaction with another person might cause them no offence whatsoever, but be perceived by a third party to be hateful, thus initiating a police investigation and possible legal proceedings even against the supposed victim’s wishes.
This is not unknown to happen. Following the Brussels terror attacks in 2016, British citizen Matthew Doyle posted on Twitter about an incident where he stupidly accosted a random Muslim in the street and asked her to “explain Brussels”. Doyle was reported to the police by outraged Twitter users, arrested and held overnight before ultimately being released. The police action was not initiated by the poor Muslim woman who had to deal with Doyle’s idiocy or even by a bystander, but by third parties twice removed who heard his account of the incident via social media.
Even in the United States, where the First Amendment prevents such draconian laws, careers and lives are still ruined by the outrage of third parties. Only recently, a British orchestral conductor working at a music festival in Oregon was dismissed from his post after a bystander heard him impersonate a southern accent while speaking to a friend and fellow musician. The bystander decided that because the friend was black, this constituted hate speech (even though no offence was intended or taken) and reported the incident, and a promising career is now tarnished as a result.
This approach to hate crime reporting by vicarious outrage is bad for everyone. It is bad for victims of real hate crimes, who suddenly find their plight and suffering spoken of in the same breath as that of someone who overheard an off-colour conversation on the bus or took offence at a political advertisement. It is bad for law-abiding citizens, who at any time could find themselves accused of committing a hate crime – the kind of accusation which can ruin reputations and livelihoods even when guilt is never proved – according the the capricious whim of a particularly sensitive individual, a snarling Social Justice Warrior or even a third party who takes it upon themselves to intervene.
But more than that, the UK’s current hate crime legislation is bad for free speech and the already-imperilled right to freedom of expression in Britain. This country has hauled people before the courts or even sent people to prison for such crimes as singing the wrong songs at football matches, preaching their religion in the street, making political YouTube videos or tweeting inappropriately. In our present victimhood culture we seem increasingly unwilling to fall back on time-honoured alternative ways of dealing with relatively low-level rudeness and outrage, such as social ostracisation, confrontation or debate. Instead, an increasing number of us believe that the only recourse available to the offended is to bring the full weight of the law crashing down on those who have angered us.
Anybody who professes to care about victims of real hate crimes should abhor the direction in which we are heading. Rending one’s garments about the supposed spike in hate crimes may be convenient cudgel with which to bash Brexit (even though most of the spike was accounted for by disabled and transgender hate crime which had nothing to do with the referendum), but it does a serious disservice to genuine victims, people who carry physical and mental injuries more serious than the outraged suffered by reading a mean tweet.
And that’s why we need a grassroots public campaign to push back against the expansionist definition of hate crime in Britain. This is a cause which should unite both civil libertarians (who would definitely be on board) and advocates for minority rights (many of whom will probably not be, to their shame). Such a campaign would put the focus back on those victims who have suffered genuine harm, and take the spotlight away from self-regarding performers who flaunt their supposed fragility on social media. And it would strike a powerful blow for freedom of expression at a time when many Western countries are going soft on the idea of liberty.
So what form should this campaign take? First, we need to be completely realistic and acknowledge that our cowardly political class (some of whom are identity politics zealots themselves, others merely intimidated by them) will do nothing to come to the aid of free speech and/or common sense unless forced to do so by circumstances they cannot ignore. Therefore peaceful direct action is required to force the attention of leaders.
I propose that this direct action take the form of a coordinated national “Report a Phoney Hate Crime” day. These reports should be self-evidently absurd (“I saw a kid laughing at Ronald McDonald and wish to report an anti-clown hate crime”) so as not to generate major law enforcement responses, but still sufficient to gum up the bureaucracy with endless paperwork as each hate crime report has to be diligently investigated.
Remember, most police forces now seem more concerned about policing social media for evidence of thoughtcrime than dealing with the kind of low-level real-world crime which blights neighbourhoods and ruins lives. In London, the Metropolitan Police can’t get on top of the spike in barbaric acid attacks, yet still manage to cart people off to the police station for things they have posted on Facebook. People engaged in this kind of work do not deserve respect or sympathy from the public.
Therefore, citizens should take the following actions:
- Settle on a day for the coordinated action
- Publicise the event through press releases, social media and earned media coverage
- Create a website with template content and links to official hate crime reporting websites and telephone numbers, making it easy as possible for people to participate
- Take action en masse. There is safety in numbers, which would defray the risk of any spiteful retaliation by the authorities
- Sit back and watch the entire authoritarian thought-policing system come juddering to a halt
- Use the public interest generated to urge for a return to sane laws which focus on a suspect’s criminal actions, not their supposed motivations or how they are perceived by third parties
We do this not to denigrate the issue of genuine hate crime or to belittle the suffering of its victims in any way. Quite the opposite. We should take this action in recognition of the fact that there is a shared interest in standing up for freedom of expression while also wresting the spotlight away from non-victims (people turned emotionally fragile and politically authoritarian by smothered upbringings and exposure to the cult of identity politics) and back towards the thousands of genuine victims whose stories are presently being drowned out.
Nothing but direct action will work. You could write the most eloquent treatise on the importance of free speech to a well-functioning democracy, and it will be ignored. Send it to your MP, and ninety percent of the time it will end up in the bin. The main political parties, both of which once contained factions that might have stood up for free speech, are terrified of doing anything that might be perceived as controversial, particularly the spiritually lost Conservative Party.
But if we are unable to persuade our cowardly leaders to change the system from above, we the people still hold the power to break it from below. We should flood hate crime reporting tools with a barrage of phoney cases, each one even more ludicrous than those which are now earnestly reported in the media (though this will be a challenge). We need to show politicians and the judiciary the logical endpoint of their expansionist definition of hate crimes, and force a change.
So let’s set a date and get to work.
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