Perhaps it was only when time-travelling 21st Century DI Sam Tyler was confronted by racism in 1973 and expressed his opinion that he suspected a ‘Hate Crime’ that the ludicrousness of the term seemed more blatant than ever. ‘As opposed to an I-really-love-you crime?’ asked his guv’nor in response. Okay, so DCI Gene Hunt in the celebrated BBC drama ‘Life on Mars’ may not have been the most sympathetic or sensitive of characters, but the notion of a separate category for a criminal act based solely on ‘hate’ is a contentious one that deserves to be questioned. At the time ‘Life on Mars’ was set, there were certainly plenty of retrospective Hate Crimes being committed on British streets; the daily murders by both sides of the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland could be considered so – using today’s definition, anyway.
The impression sometimes given is that Hate Crime was hatched as a catch-all umbrella label to Hoover-up lots of little offences and assemble them all in a neat package that could also encompass other ‘offences’ not already catered for by the law. Many of the actions by individuals that fall under the Hate Crime banner would once have been dismissed as little more than playground-level name-calling; it’s a definition open to abuse like few others. It’s as though officers arriving at the scene of a crime who may be bemused by the evident absence of a motive pull the Hate Crime card out of a hat because it not only makes their job so much easier; it also pleases those who demand recognition as Victims.
There are numerous subdivisions that are encompassed by the Hate Crime tag. These include racially motivated violence, transphobic violence, violence against LGBT people, violence against men, violence against women, violence against people with disabilities and so forth – all of which are horrible, but all of which are virtually identical and unpleasant crimes committed by one human being against another. Should they not simply be considered age-old acts of violence full stop? Why do they require their own little label that immediately puts them in a ‘special category’?
The need to categorise everything and everyone so that every item of information on a database can be referenced and cross-referenced to see which box it belongs in has been extended from data to people; and people are utterly complicit in this. The desire to be a ‘joiner’ and belong to an officially recognised Community seems to have superseded religious definitions in many cases as a means of self-identification, and would appear to fulfil a deep need to be a member of a crowd in a world that has been shorn of its older certainties. The advent of Hate Crime could be considered a symptom of this need.
Actively promoted by pressure groups and self-proclaimed minorities seeking a pigeonhole to comfortably slot into, Hate Crime is not only redefining genuine crimes and grouping them with incidents that should barely register as such, but it appears to be a term that is being applied to any manner of minor insults, an extension of the PC Police in monitoring free speech. The whole ‘you can’t say that’ argument has been given one hell of a boost with the inception of Hate Crime.
Nowhere is this more obvious than online, where the anonymity a fake identity provides apparently gives the troll carte-blanche to say whatever he or she likes and receive no comeback. Hate Mail existed long before email, let alone Twitter, so it’s nothing new. Technology has merely facilitated a faster means of sending abuse than it used to take when posting a letter, just as it has enabled messages of a more benign nature to reach the recipient in an instant. For those who live online and can barely survive a minute without gazing at their Smartphone, any abusive text or message is bound to have a greater impact, as this is impinging upon the central hub of their existence.
The Metropolitan Police Force is clearly taking the concerns of online obsessives into account by setting up a new unit to tackle the problem for the princely sum of £1.7m. A spokesman for the pilot project claimed there was ‘no place for hate in London’ and also used that awful term ‘zero tolerance’, which always sounds too uncomfortably reminiscent of old phrases such as ‘short, sharp shock’ or even the inappropriate application of the word ‘Tsar’ to anyone heading such a taskforce.
It is the vagueness of Hate Crime as a description and how easily it can be attached to an opinion that contradicts the current consensus that makes it such a problematic term. Any police involvement in a dispute between one individual and a Community (especially an online one) always seems an unnecessary intervention, something that grown adults should be able to deal with on their own and not go crying to the Boys in Blue about. After all, they have enough issues of their own making to deal with, such as murdering former Premier League footballers by applying 50,000 volts to them simply because they resisted being restrained. That might not be a Hate Crime, but it’s pretty bloody hateful. RIP Dalian Atkinson.
© The Editor