by Sam Ashworth-Hayes
Friday, 19
June 2020
Reaction
15:00

A hate crime… without the hate

A troubling development in the City of Oakland
by Sam Ashworth-Hayes
Mayor of Oakland Libby Schaff said “intentions do not matter” in a suspected hate crime

When is a rope-swing not a rope-swing? Why, when it’s a symbol of racial violence, of course.

Confused? Let me explain. A resident in Oakland, California, found five ropes tied to trees in a park. Concerned that the ropes resembled a hangman’s noose — a symbol associated with the lynching of African-Americans — they reported them to the local authorities.

After they were removed, Victor Sengbe — another resident of the area — came forward to say the ‘nooses’ were rope swings used for fun and exercise. As he put it:

Out of the dozen and hundreds and thousands of people that walked by, no-one has thought that it looked anywhere close to a noose… it was really a fun addition to the park that we tried to create. It’s unfortunate that a genuine gesture of just wanting to have a good time got misinterpreted into something so heinous.
- Victor Sengbe

At this point, the sensible thing to do would be to close the matter. Tensions are running high, a knotted rope can look a bit like a noose if you’re in the wrong frame of mind, an understandable mistake but no harm done.

Instead, local officials doubled down and called in the FBI. Mayor Schaaf said that officials “must start with the assumption that these are hate crimes”, while Cultural Affairs Commission member Theo Williams called for the person that set the ropes up to be “made an example of”.

The revelation that the ‘nooses’ were ‘swings’? Irrelevant. “I want to be clear, ” said Schaaf, “regardless of the intentions of whoever put those nooses in our public trees, in our sacred public space here in Oakland, intentions don’t matter”.

To rephrase this, these officials believe a hate crime — a crime which by definition must be actively motivated by prejudice against someone — can be committed unintentionally. The idea of a bureaucracy prosecuting people on the basis that their actions could be perceived as hateful is truly terrifying; as Sengbe noted, only one of the thousands of people who walked past viewed the ropes as resembling anything close to a noose. But their opinion is the one that mattered from the perspective of the City.

Setting a rule whereby the harshest possible interpretation of an action determines whether or not a person should be subjected to a full investigation can have nothing but a chilling effect on a society. Hate crimes are singled out in law because of the effect they have on community relations. Treating every innocent interaction as a cause for a potential hate crime investigation does not exactly sound like a recipe for harmony either.

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Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
2 years ago

Patently absurd – but here in the UK we are fast approaching such levels of idiocy.

The spike in reported hate crimes following the referendum was trumpeted as proof of what a nasty, intolerant country we had become. But rather than a rise in crime it merely reflected a rise in peoples’ willingness (indeed, zeal in many cases) to report “hate” crimes, many of which were no such thing.

The definition of a hate crime was, until a few years ago, a crime that was “motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on personal characteristics. Crimes driven by prejudice based on race, religion/faith, sexual orientation, disability, and gender identity.”

That definition ““ much against advice ““ was changed to “any criminal offence WHICH IS PERCEIVED, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic. “¦. etc’. This is how the Police must record such crimes, according to their ‘Hate Crime Operational Guidance’.

It is the victim’s perception that is now the deciding factor in whether something is measured as a hate crime. ‘Evidence of”¦ hostility is not required for an incident or crime to be recorded as a hate crime or hate incident,’ according to the guidance. ‘The perception of the victim, or any other person, is the defining factor”¦ the victim does not have to justify or provide evidence of their belief, and police officers or staff should not directly challenge this perception.’

Just let that sink in. No evidence is required and it is the victim’s perception that is the defining factor.

NO EVIDENCE REQUIRED.

Just a feeling.

The guidance continues – ‘apparent lack of motivation as the cause of an incident is not relevant as it is the perception of the victim or any other person that counts’. We now allow the entirely subjective reaction to a crime from the victim to dictate what the crime denotes.

As a result of this stupid ““ really stupid ““ redefining, burglaries and theft are now routinely recorded as hate crimes. Of all the incidences of “Hate Crimes” as listed in the England & Wales Crime Survey for England and Wales, 8% are burglaries.

2% of hate crimes ARE BICYCLE THEFTS! Really? A hate-inspired bicycle theft?

It suits some peoples’ agendas to be able to point to a rise in hate crimes as evidence that Britain from 2016 to the present day “is like Germany in the 1930s” or some such tosh but before anyone starts to believe such a gloomy picture they ought to reflect on whether they think it more likely that people steal a bicycle because the owner was gay, or black, or Polish, or Muslim, rather than because the bike was unlocked or unguarded.

There are genuine victims suffering genuine hate crimes against them. We should be worrying about them rather than hand-wringing about an apparent, though factually erroneous, rise in hate crimes, based on a totally flawed metric.

The UK was, and remains, just about the most tolerant country in the world.

People do the country no favours bemoaning a rise in hatred and bigotry simply because it fits a narrative they wish to prove to themselves and others.

There are (and, historically, have been) few countries that have been more welcoming and tolerant of people of different race, gender, orientation, whatever than the UK. For each of the anecdotal instances of intolerance that get trumpeted as “proof” of widespread racism, sexism, homophobia, etc etc there are a million other instances of just everyday acceptance of people, – regardless of colour, ethnicity or nationality – that are not worthy of anecdotes simply because they are so everyday.

We can argue about what has caused this desire in some people to claim we are a nasty, xenophobic, intolerant country – but I think anyone honest would agree that it is not an accurate reflection of this country at all – and does us no favours at a time when we should be putting the most positive view of Britain to the rest of the world.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Not just hate crimes, we also have racially motivated offences. If I punch you on the nose while shouting “Take that, you fat b*stard” I’ll get a certain sentence. If my words are misheard as “you black b*stard” I’ll get a harsher sentence. Madness.

Alex Mitchell
Alex Mitchell
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Wish I could upvote this more than once

Hugh Jarse
Hugh Jarse
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Well argued, and resonates with those of us who profess to value evidence, logic and a rational approach to matters. But we are one side of a cultural divide. There is another side, always been there in the margins. Along with the other kooky religions. Somehow, we’ve let this one gain traction, and very recently to a frightening extent. We in the UK and on ‘our’ side of that cultural divide can laugh at the absurdity described in the Oakland piece above. Americans! What a bunch! Of course it couldn’t happen here. Could it? We think differently, we’re sensible. We have a long history of conservatism with institutions that guard against extremism of any flavour. Do we? Are we? Have we?
How events play out over the next few months or so will answer those questions. We ought to be under no illusions that much depends on what those answers are.
What many of us have come to realise is that dystopia is not some concept we read about in history books and in fiction, films, etc. If we are not very careful, or if we are simply careless it could be just around the corner.

Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Well said. The hate crime legislation is appalling.

The legislation makes it possible to increase the severity of someone’s punishment out of spite or on a mere whim.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
2 years ago

If mainstream politics does not start to push back against this sort of lunacy very soon, then it will be the extremist who do and in doing so will gain massive popular support, Then we really will have proper hate crimes going on.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

Mad.

Konstantinos Stavropoulos
Konstantinos Stavropoulos
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Sad.

Hugh Clark
Hugh Clark
2 years ago

This woman Schaaf is a member of the Democratic Party. A misnomer if ever I heard one.

rangerista01
rangerista01
2 years ago

This is Super Wokeness. Those advocating prosecution for putting up swings are just Show Trial Stalinists.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
2 years ago

So was anyone prosecuted – or persecuted – for this?