My problem with “Hate Crimes”…

Yesterday I wrote about the movie, Blade Runner, a futuristic vision which is just one of many possible futures that we may well face. We can laugh about such movies now and brand them sci-fi fantasy nonsense but the downsides of corporate-controlled, heavily censored, technology-ruled, dystopian futures are very real and will be with us soon depending on how careful we are with our decision-making NOW. After all, self-aware computers such as HAL and Skynet were once “just” sci-fi but here we are, inviting smart technology such as Alexa into our homes and giving it increasing access to the controls. Do a quick search on the internet and you will already find stories of Alexa getting a little too smart. People are laughing about it now but for how much longer?

Anyway – as I said – the avoidance of such futures will be based on intelligent decision-making now but unfortunately, I don’t have any faith in our species to make those calculated choices. Every time I dare to look at the news I see the planet’s sanity slipping away bit by bit as my brothers and sisters persist with their determination to flush common sense down the toilet.

And it’s that key phrase – “Common Sense” – that links my waffling about Terminator-style futures and that bitch, Alexa, to so-called Hate Crimes (we got there in the end). What does any of that have to do with current social issues, I hear you ask? Well, it’s the same lack of common-sense when dealing with today’s social issues that will see us ruled by our washing machines at some point in the future. It’s one of those classic “where does it all end?” questions.

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[image: pearlsofprofundity.wordpress.com]
But first, what exactly IS a hate crime? Well, let me go straight to the top and retrieve the definition from our own Metropolitan Police website here in the UK.

“A hate crime is when someone commits a crime against you because of your disability, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, religion, or any other perceived difference.”

“It doesn’t always include physical violence. Someone using offensive language towards you or harassing you because of who you are, or who they think you are, is also a crime. The same goes for someone posting abusive or offensive messages about you online.”

And it goes further…

“A hate crime is defined as ‘Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability and any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.’

A hate incident is any incident which the victim, or anyone else, thinks is based on someone’s prejudice towards them because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or because they are transgender.

Not all hate incidents will amount to criminal offences, but it is equally important that these are reported and recorded by the police.

Evidence of the hate element is not a requirement. You do not need to personally perceive the incident to be hate related. It would be enough if another person, a witness or even a police officer thought that the incident was hate related.”

A prime example of our country’s definition of a hate crime was reported back in March (I meant to post about it sooner but quite honestly, couldn’t be bothered…) when a Catholic journalist made the mistake of referring to a transgender woman as a man on good old Twitter.

From MSN News:

“Caroline Farrow appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain alongside Susie Green, whose daughter Jackie Green is transgender, to discuss Girlguiding’s decision to let children who have changed their gender join the organisation.

On Tuesday Farrow tweeted that she did not “remember said tweets”, adding: “I probably said ‘he’ or ‘son’ or something. All I have been told is that following an appearance on Good Morning Britain I made some tweets misgendering Susie Green’s child and that I need to attend a taped interview.””

“Using the wrong pronoun could be an offence under the Malicious Communications Act, which makes it a crime to send messages that are indecent or grossly offensive, threatening, or contain information which is false or believed to be false, if the purpose for sending it is to cause distress or anxiety. Breaking the law carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.”

The first issue here is that I titled this post “My Problem with Hate Crimes…” when I really should have used the plural, ProblemS. If you’re of a calm, common-sense orientated mindset, as I am, then you will no doubt have picked up on them already after reading the quotes above. I wouldn’t want you to do all the work though so in the interests of not being lazy, here are the glaring faults as I see them:

  1. We are constantly being reminded to respect the faith and religious beliefs of others and I assume that NOT doing that would also be classed as a hate crime. With that in mind, why are Caroline Farrow’s CATHOLIC beliefs on the subject of gender change being criminalised?
  2. What part of this so-called “crime” was motivated by hostility or prejudice? Farrow later stated that she tries “really hard not to misgender people” and that’s despite her Catholic beliefs, let’s not forget. Anybody with a brain (a dying breed it would seem) would realise that she simply made a mistake when choosing her terminology on Twitter. I don’t believe for a second that there was any malice or deliberate attempt to defy the “victim”s transgender lifestyle by selecting the words “him” or “he”.
  3. We need to talk about this Malicious Communications Act because being sentenced for two years in prison for using the wrong pronoun is bonkers. I’ve heard of ACTUAL criminals getting less time for doing far worse. The positive side of the Act is that it deters internet trolls and low-level, neanderthal types from targeting specific people with racial or sexual slurs for the sole purpose of attacking them with words and causing psychological harm. This is GOOD. This is why such legislation was needed in the first place. The problem is that the definition of Hate Crimes becomes far too loose and grey around the edges as a result. In the case of the Caroline Farrow story, the wrong pronoun may have been used but it was an innocent mistake. Unfortunately it seems that even non-malicious errors potentially carry the same consequences as intentionally setting out to spread hate. My big issue here is that if the transgender “victim” still looks and sounds like their original sex then it is highly likely that you are going to accidentally refer to them by their original gender out of pure INSTINCT. It is a MISTAKE, not an intentional attack which brings me to my next point…
  4. When did everybody decide to become so incredibly sensitive? In my mind, the normal reaction to accidentally being referred to by your original sex would be either to calmly point out the mistake or simply accept that people make mistakes and will be doing so for some time to come. As long as that person didn’t purposely set out to offend or ridicule your life decisions then I see no issue. To me it seems that so many people are simply waiting to leap to irrational conclusions and are prepared to see attacks and hatred coming at them from every angle, like a tripped-out stoner having hallucinations of ten copies of the same person sharing a room with them.

I’m also not happy about the constant use of the word “perceived”. Rather than have concrete definitions of a crime, it’s as if the victim gets to make the judgment call on whether something was a crime or not. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t that sort of thing for the police, a jury or a court judge to decide? After all, somebody might say the same thing to two different transgender people and one will shrug it off while the other defines it as a criminal act. You can’t do that with other types of crime such as murder or theft; it either happened or it didn’t. And of course, Perception loves to share a bed with Overreaction.

Oh and let’s not forget this little nugget from the police’s description of hate crime:

“Evidence of the hate element is not a requirement”

So now we have “crimes” that don’t require evidence? Fuck.

Obviously, it isn’t my intention here to play down genuine offences or the struggles that the transgender community face because I know it is happening right now, all over the world, and that some of the legitimate hostility is quite aggressive and foul. But is it so far-fetched to believe that some people are overreacting over simple mistakes when they should be saving their fight for the REAL haters? Is it a case of the overall cause being so important that common-sense and rationale need to be sacrificed at the altar of progression? I think we need to be careful. It’s brilliant that the law here in the UK is offering protection for these relatively new movements but it shouldn’t also offer a blank canvas for people to decide what is and isn’t a crime, making the perpertrators of genuine mistakes out to be bad human beings.

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[image: thewomensuniverse.com]
There’s also another issue here that I think needs to be brought into the light: the difference between accepting something and agreeing with it. I sometimes feel that people think in black-and-white and can’t understand that it’s possible to disagree with something and still accept it. I personally don’t agree with people changing their sex, especially when they are children well below the age where the law classes them as an adult. BUT I accept that this is happening and I wouldn’t dream of insulting a transgender person or taking the piss out of them. As far as I am concerned, it is their life and they can do what they like with it. They aren’t hurting anybody after all and I have always bought into the philosopy of doing what you need to do in order to be happy considering that our lives are short and can end at any time. After all, the haters can spew their bile and waste their energy but if it’s YOU who are happy with your life and the choices that have got you to that point then who really gets the last laugh?

But I can’t help but see people searching for injustice and actively seeking it out; twisting even the most minor of things into a full-blown outrage that deserves media coverage and a Twitter-storm so that like-minded self-victimisers can get together in the echo chambers of the internet, their numbers bolstered by hoardes of tag alongs that have nothing to do with the issue but want to look fashionable by liking or commenting on whatever is trending. And once all of that has escalated to Red Alert status and the furious meltdowns begin, the trivial root cause of all the screaming is forgotten and somebody who perhaps said the wrong word by mistake has already been metaphorically tried and executed by social media as the devil incarnate.

If you think I’m making too big of a deal out of it then read the following news excerpts and tell me that these aren’t the signs of a society descending into madness…a society where people are furious about everything and set on turning non-malicious errors of speech into criminal acts.

“In February, a teacher who was accused of misgendering a child was told by police that she had committed a hate crime.

The teacher reportedly refused to acknowledge that the pupil self-identified as a boy and failed to use the pupil’s preferred pronouns of “he” or “him”.

Okay, I can only half give this one because the teacher in question did actively refuse to acknowledge the pupil but even so…how do we know that the student in question hadn’t just decided off their own (non-adult) back to “be” a boy? Is it fair to call this a hate crime? Is it right to force society to agree with it and not give the option to retain an opinion?

“Last year, it was reported that a teacher was suing a school after he faced disciplinary action for referring to a transgender pupil as a girl.

Joshua Sutcliffe, from Oxford, said he was investigated after he said “well done, girls” to a group that included a student who identifies as a boy.”

In this case, this has to have been a simple mistake. Let’s face it, if you were teaching a class of girls, wouldn’t it be easy – understandable, even – to accidentally forget that one of them identified as a boy? Let’s not forget that “identifying” as a boy doesn’t mean that you actually look like one so the mistake would be even easier to make. Finally, did the pupil even tell the teacher/school that they identified as a boy or did they use witheld/private knowledge after the so-called “incident” to retroactively lodge a complaint? This one is ridiculous as far as I’m concerned. Teachers shouldn’t have to go and do their job (difficult enough anyway with budget cuts and lack of discipline amongst school-age children these days) and then have to deal with this bullshit on top. I would ask those who are offended to put themselves in the position of the teacher and look at the situation from a different perspective, their own beliefs set to one side for a moment…

“Last October, a transgender lawyer launched the UK’s first “deadnaming” case in the high court against Father Ted’s screenplay writer after he referred to her using her birth name. The transgender activist Stephanie Hayden is suing Graham Linehan, the co-writer of the comedy TV series, for defamation and harassment after he allegedly published a series of tweets “deliberately misgendering” her by using her previous male name, otherwise known as “deadnaming”.

Hayden said Linehan “caused her distress” and that his actions constituted harassment, a misuse of private information, and were a “gross affront to her dignity as a woman”.

So now we have “deadnaming” too? And our old friend, Perception as well as that amazing word “allegedly”. We don’t know that Linehan intentionally used Hayden’s original name in his tweets. Could it simply be a conclusion that was leapt to without even asking Linehan? There’s no concrete evidence or fact to this one and yet it warranted a court case and the extreme terms of “defamation”, “harassment”, “distress” and a “gross affront”. How about that misuse of private information? The original name of a TV actor that was already out there in the public eye and no-doubt in the end credits of many TV episodes? Come on: get real here. Maybe Linehan DID do it on purpose but if he didn’t, I bet he was sitting there thinking “huh?” and wondering what kind of parallel universe he’d fallen into during his sleep.

And that’s about all I can stomach, I’m afraid. The whole hate crime thing is deeply flawed and far too open to any old rumours and personal perceptions being classified as criminal acts. There is well-meaning there and I am 100% in agreement that unnecessary prejudice and hate is out there and a real obstacle. But how about this: save the energy and passion for taking down the REAL hate-speakers, not the poor guy who saw a woman, didn’t know that ‘she’ identified as a man and ended up having to take a police interview for an honest mistake that anybody would make.

I need to go now anyway. I have to complete the move into my new house:

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[image: stevehamiltonphoto.com]

Desensitisation to violence

I currently have a large list of topics and ideas for posts that I will hopefully be getting around to in the coming weeks (if anybody is interested that is) but I wanted to put them all to the side and talk about this – something serious – for today’s post. The growing desensitisation to violence and cruelty in our society. It’s something I’ve noticed more and more as the years pass and quite honestly, it concerns me. Perhaps it shouldn’t but it does. And I think more people should sit up and take notice of what’s going on because there are many questions that can and should be asked.

I’m talking about indifference to the latest terrorist attack wherever it happens. A bomb obliterates a marketplace of innocent people in some far off Middle Eastern country? Shrug of the shoulders. No surprise there. Carry on watching Netflix.

An unhinged teenager brings a machine gun to show-and-tell day and fills his classmates with bullets just because “nobody liked him” or a girl turned him down for prom. Yawn. Seen it all before. Show me something new.

A woman is raped and brutally murdered on parkland simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whatever; it happens all the time. Push it down to the minor news items so that we can focus on the real news. Who is illicitly shagging who in showbiz for instance or how Kim K’s butt looked in public this week.

I get it. There’s nothing that getting upset or overthinking on stories like these will achieve. We are constantly bombarded with terrible news on a daily basis and so it is probably only natural that we can only be shocked by so much before the shocking gradually loses its ability to deliver a gut punch. Further, it’s easy to look at awful things happening in faraway locales and not feel threatened by it because of all that space between us and them. It’s a luxury of the western world that shouldn’t be forgotten.

But often I am seeing fun being made of atrocities and savage violence; horrific, needless losses of life being trivialised and accepted as ‘normal’. Don’t get me wrong: I can take a joke and see the logic in laughing so that you don’t cry but I see this desensitisation being taken too far, too often. Nowhere is this more prevalant than with school shootings in the US. These are some of the worst things I have ever seen reported on TV: innocent children being shot to pieces for no crime other than attending school. Young lives cut short for no good reason and families/friends destroyed. I see these events unfold on the news here in the UK and it genuinely breaks my heart…and I’m far from a weepy, emotional sap – believe me.

Others clearly don’t feel the same though. I recently watched the video for Foster The People’s Pumped Up Kicks on Youtube (a song that alludes to school shootings) and the comments section was interesting to say the least.

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I don’t believe that any of these people mean malice or are necessarily “bad” people. Also, this is a music video and not a political/social battleground so I wouldn’t EXPECT serious discussion. However, do these comments reflect a general lack of respect to the results of school shootings? Are these people US citizens poking fun at these horrible tragedies that are occuring in their own country? It’s one thing to be unable to react emotionally to attacks in foreign countries but in your own? Obviously this is Youtube and the internet so we can’t assume contributers’ locations.

But why is it that we – as a society – are able to make fun of apalling acts of murder and act so indifferent to them? I personally believe that it’s down to the “it won’t happen to me” mindset that too many of us have. We feel safe in the west even though we know that murders and shootings are happening in our midst. There’s also the fact that we are “drugged up” on entertainment and non-important life content. It is all too easy for us to shut out life’s horrors and bury our heads in videogames, movies and the internet. Sometimes, it’s the real world that feels like the fiction while the fluff and materialistic things have a greater power to offend or anger us.

Even so, try explaining your latest school shooting joke as “harmless fun” to somebody whose daughter was shot dead at high school. Inform the friends of a dead highschooler that they can’t “take a joke” after they get upset at the latest fatal shooting spawning “witty” humour. To me, it’s wrong. People are only able to come out with this stuff because they personally haven’t been the victim of a similar attack. I really hope they don’t ever have to experience it for themselves but if they did, I imagine that the laughing and clever jokes would stop.

Sometimes I look around and wonder how we got to this point so quickly. I don’t doubt that bad taste humour has always been around (because it has) but the millennial generation have taken to it like a duck to water and continually push the boundaries. Then I wonder to myself: how much worse will it get? How much are we prepared to laugh about? Children are growing up with shootings, stabbings and brutal killings being the norm thanks to a media that is determined to broadcast them to us on a rolling twenty four hour news feed. If it’s no longer out of the ordinary then how will it shock?

In my mind, it all comes back to our lives being too easy with no real hardships. Yes, we all experience suffering to different degrees for various, personal reasons but we are all fortunate nonetheless. If we lived in war-torn countries then I doubt we would be posting amusing memes about death on social media. Was WWII funny for the generation who being called up and sent to their probable deaths in trenches? I doubt it.

I’m not really sure where I intended to finish up with this post. All I can say in conclusion is that this desensitisation to violence is disheartening and unhealthy. I hope that attitudes might change but I think that the indifference is only set to grow.