Hate crimes and hate speech are completely subjectively defined. So the proposed “Hate Crimes Offenders Register” would have a chilling effect on speech and would do nothing to stop those who really are racist.
Thom Brooks, a Durham professor whose input was solicited by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, has encouraged the Government to introduce a “Hate Crimes Offenders Register”, akin to the Sex Offenders Register, to leave a lasting black mark by the names of those accused of hate incidents.
Not content to leave the threat within this suggestion merely implicit, Professor Brooks has added that anyone consigned to this register should be “restricted from working with children and/or working in certain professions”.
Many readers will understandably lack sympathy towards those convicted of hate crimes. The phrase calls to mind violent assaults motivated by race, or sexual orientation.
But alongside this there are two further, more concerning categories to bear in mind – “incitement to hatred” offences, covering speech acts which may be deemed to provoke hatred, and “hate incidents”, which, though not prosecuted, are recorded by the police. It is likely the former would be covered by Professor Brooks’ proposal. As far as “hate incidents” are concerned, who can say?
This peril is heightened when you consider our current approach to “hate incidents” – the current Hate Crime Operational Guide used by the British police force dictates that “the perception of the victim, or any other person, is the defining factor in determining whether an incident is a hate incident”.
So, if you are accused of perpetuating a “hate incident”, it won’t be up to the police to exercise their good judgement and common sense in determining if there is a valid complaint. If the alleged victim, or even an onlooker to the supposed incident, says there was a hate incident, then that’s the end of the matter. I’m sure – I certainly hope – that most of you reading this aren’t racists, but if someone makes such an accusation against you that stigma will cling to your name, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Similarly, “incitement to hatred” laws already mean that you can be arrested if something you post online is considered to be provoking hatred of a racial or religious group. This may almost seem like a laughable anecdote from a dystopian teen fiction. But with our government increasingly embracing authoritarianism in the name of “fighting hate”, in any guise it may be deemed to take, the proposal to introduce such a register, and the threat it presents to our society, need to be taken seriously.
Our generation has already grown up with the knowledge that an accusation, however spurious or ill-founded, of racism, Islamophobia or any of the other dreaded “isms” and “phobias”, is a de facto barrier to a successful future. Under these proposals this fate would be prescribed by law.
We may not have to worry immediately about such a proposal making much headway, given the impact it may have on the Home Secretary herself. Amber Rudd’s speech to the last Conservative conference, in which she suggested requiring companies to report the proportion of foreign workers they employed, was logged as a “hate incident” by West Midlands Police following a complaint that it was an incitement to hatred. It was later revealed the complainant, an Oxford professor, had not even watched the speech in question.
The fact that this sort of frivolous complaint is not only thrown about, but actually taken seriously by the police, should be reason enough to dread such a “hate criminals register”. We have all heard the horror stories about those who end up on American sex offenders registers as a result of relieving themselves on the street during a night of drunken revelry. When someone’s outrage at the mere rumour of what you may have said is judged grounds to officially declare you hateful, a danger to children, and unfit to practice a profession, we should all be afraid.
The people least likely to be impacted by any such register are the actual, dyed-in-the-wool racists out there. People like Nick Griffin and David Irving, or their analogues such as Richard Spencer in the US, have already gleefully made their abhorrent attitudes known to the public at large, and made it easy for us to decide whether or not we wish to associate with them. An official designation as a “Massive Racist” is neither here nor there to real Massive Racists – they tend to make themselves known sooner or later.
By contrast, those who are not hateful, and would never think to indulge in racists vitriol or violence, would be under perpetual threat of having their life ruined by an undeserved allegation. This could be the result of an over judicious, hawk-eyed bureaucracy, or simply motivated by personal animosity. If you believe such a system won’t be abused in this way, you have more faith in humanity than I.
One of the most dangerous possible outcomes of such a system would be the mistrust and resentment it would breed. Already, there is increasing skepticism of the narrative of a “hate crime epidemic” in this country. With every false allegation, mistaken identity, misunderstanding or overreaction, the wrongly condemned person and their friends and family would gain an aggressive, perhaps excessive, doubt towards the whole idea of “hate crimes”.
Increasingly, people would come to believe most hate crimes were flimsy allegations rather than genuine incidents of wickedness; they would come to resent, rather than support, even well-considered efforts to counter racism and hatred. This can already be seen with discontent at the one-sided application of the “hate crime” designation, both in the UK and abroad.
A climate across the Western world in which you can be called a racist for voicing concerns about immigration has been a contributor to a wave of alienation which has buoyed Trump, UKIP and the French Front National; once people start losing their jobs for voicing such dissent, how many more people will turn to extreme solutions, and how much more extreme will those solutions be?
Christina Bradbury is a part-time clicktivist and a full-time troublemaker.
The featured photo is by Michael Coghlan and used under Creative Commons Share-Alike 2.0