boringvsfunny

Which side of me will win?

Sophie Lancaster: Hate is not a crime

sophie_lancaster

I’m not enjoying admitting this, but today is the day I will always remember as the day I found myself agreeing with Richard Littlejohn.

I didn’t mean for it to happen. I was just doing some research for this piece and I saw a link to a Littlejohn column about the subject I was researching that was described as “truly disgusting”. As I read Littlejohn’s words, I can’t say I was disgusted at all. In fact, all I could think was, “Yeah, this is pretty much what I think.”

Maybe I’m not well. Or maybe Littlejohn is actually making a good point for a change.

See, when the news emerged a few days ago that Greater Manchester Police was to begin registering crimes perpetrated against goths, emos, punks and metalheads as ‘hate crimes’, I didn’t feel that this was a victory to be celebrated. I actually felt a little bit embarrassed. Not to mention confused.

I don’t think I’m the only one who’s confused either. I’ve actually tried to find someone, somewhere giving clear, specific reasons why this change in policy is actually a good thing, and exactly what positive effect it is expected to have. I couldn’t find any such thing anywhere. Even the policeman who made the announcement is unable to clearly identify its purpose…

He says that people don’t deserve to be victimised because of how they look. This is, of course, true. But he doesn’t actually make it at all clear how this change in policy will make such victimisation any less likely to occur. Why not, I wonder. Probably because it won’t.

This isn’t an exercise in crime prevention, it’s an exercise in public relations. What GMP are essentially saying is, “We’re not going to be dismissive of people reporting crimes just because they look a bit funny. And here’s a vague sort of change in policy to lend a bit of weight to this promise…”

And don’t get me wrong, it’s good that the police are showing a willingness to take members of the public seriously regardless of what music they listen to or what kind of clothes they wear. And it’s a good thing that the police are recognising that membership of a subculture can make someone a bit of a target for certain types of crime.

What worries me though is that this move is being celebrated as a step towards the stated aim of S.O.P.H.I.E., the foundation set up by Sylvia Lancaster, the mother of Sophie Lancaster, a 20-year old goth who was kicked to death by a gang of teenagers in 2007. That stated aim is to bring about a change in UK law that would classify crimes motivated by hostility towards ‘alternative’ subcultural groups as ‘hate crimes’.

Under current UK law, certain crimes can carry heavier sentences if there is sufficient evidence to prove that they were motivated by a hostility towards the victim’s race, religion, sexuality, disability or transgenderism. S.O.P.H.I.E. and its supporters want this law to extend to the victim’s membership of ‘alternative’ subcultures such as goth, emo, punk and heavy metal.

This seems to me to be a unrealistic and really rather misguided aim. The whole S.O.P.H.I.E. campaign hasn’t been terribly well thought out. It makes me cringe to think what the acronym actually stands for, for starters – Stamp Out Prejudice, Hate and Intolerance Everywhere. Stamp out? Really? Did nobody question that at any point?

sophie_foundation

But why would S.O.P.H.I.E. be well thought out? Grieving parents aren’t known for their capacity to think straight. No, they’re known for their need to do something, anything, to give the awful tragedy they’ve endured some kind of positive meaning. And that’s what Sylvia Lancaster is doing. I wouldn’t want to stop her doing it either, but I might want to refocus her a bit. I’d urge her and her supporters to try and separate reason from emotion a little more.

S.O.P.H.I.E. should set its sights on a more attainable goal. The fact is that ‘hate crime’ law will never be applied to alternative subcultures, because if plebs like myself and Richard Littlejohn can spot the flaws in the idea, then you can be pretty sure that actual qualified lawmakers will be able to too.

So, what are the flaws? Well, personally I find the very concept of ‘hate crime’ pretty questionable anyway. Sure, motive should be taken into account when sentencing for any crime, but it’s often a complex, unclear, multi-layered thing. ‘Hate crime’ legislation seems to treat it as a much simpler matter than it really is, and also carries the worrying implication that hate itself should be regarded as some sort of crime. Hate’s an ugly thing, but it’s an emotion, and singling out an emotion to be ‘stamped out’ or legislated against is something that would happen in an Orwellian dystopia, so let’s not encourage it in the real world, eh?

But even if, for the sake of argument, I accept the concept of ‘hate crime’, I can’t accept the idea that prejudice against, for example, a goth, should be regarded under law as equal to prejudice against, for example, a black person. It’s an idea that embarrasses me, I think, because it seems quite popular among the ‘alternative’ subculture with which I myself identify, heavy metal.

Metal Hammer magazine ran a poll on its web site asking, “Should metalheads, punks and emos be protected by hatecrime legislation?” and 76% of respondents answered “Yes”. I think I’m writing this blog to distance myself from that apparent consensus. Guys, we do take a bit of stick from people sometimes, I know. And yes, sometimes that ‘stick’ turns violent and even, very, very occasionally, deadly. But if you actually think that it’s comparable to racial abuse then that just goes to show how sheltered, and therefore lucky, you really are.

goth
Remember, this skin colour is a choice

rodney_king
…but this one is not.

What’s needed here is some perspective. But I’m not the best person to provide it. I’m pretty lucky. I have long hair and I wear black clothes with pictures of monsters on, but my appearance isn’t all that alternative – no piercings, tattoos, hair dye or make-up for me. I’m also quite a big guy – not strong or muscular, but tall – and I tend to handle potentially violent confrontations quite well i.e. I don’t show fear, so I don’t get attacked. For these reasons – as well as a bit of luck, I guess – I’ve never been subjected to physical abuse for being a metalhead. In fact, the last person to physically assault me was another metalhead.

I also don’t fit into any of the vulnerable minority groups that existing ‘hate crime’ is intended to protect, so I don’t know what that’s like either. What I needed here was someone who belongs to an alternative subculture and one of the ‘proper’ vulnerable groups, so I contacted my friend Peter, a disabled metalhead.

I sent Peter this link and asked him what he thought.

“lol” was his reply.

Then I asked him if, as a disabled metal fan, he thought the law should recognise both of those aspects of his identity as equal ‘vulnerabilities’,

“lol, no
i don’t think being a metal fan makes you vulnerable”

I have nothing more to add.

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