I was listening to a piece on the Sunday programme this morning about hate crime. There were some horrendous stories about the kinds of vicious things people say and do to others.
Nonetheless, I am profoundly uneasy at the notion of hate crime. Why would it have been worse of John Terry to have called another footballer a black buffoon (or whatever he is alleged to have said) than, say, a ginger buffoon or a bald buffoon?
Why is racially aggravated assault worse than assault for other reasons?
It seems to me that we have entered dangerous territory here. The State has a reasonable and legitimate interest in circumscribing my behaviour when it infringes the liberties of others. It has no reasonable or legitimate interest in dictating how I am to think: for that is the path to totalitarianism.
A friend of mine is a police officer. Apparently all around the back offices of the Police Station are posters proclaiming that if a person claims an offence to have been racially motivated, then it was racially motivated and must be recorded as such.
So once again, an extraordinary degree of subjectivity is introduced into our legal and criminal processes. I could claim, for example, that when Mrs T. beaned me with a frying pan for forgetting Valentine's day once again (a purely fictitious example, you understand) that it was because in her heart of hearts she'd always wanted to marry an Asian, and it was because I'm white (as she is) that she hit me. The police would be obliged to record that as an allegation of racially aggravated assault, and treat it accordingly.
Let me be quite clear: I am not saying it is ok for footballers, or anyone else, to abuse people because of their race, skin colour etc. But then I don't think it is any better for them to abuse people for any other reason. I believe the law should stick to what actually happened, not to what attitudes others believe may sit behind it - which are in any case usually the fruit of ignorance.
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