South Yorkshire Police and its Orwellian stance on non-crime hate

People encouraged to report insulting and offensive comments

In case you have missed the Twitter storm regarding this, let’s dive straight into it.

It all started with an initial Tweet by the South Yorkshire Police, see below.

“Hate can be any incident or crime, motivated by prejudice or hostility (or perceived to be so) against a person’s race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability. Hate hurts and nobody should have to tolerate it. Report it and put a stop to it #HateHurts
Initial Tweet on @syptweet account

So, whilst we can argue about the incredible fuzziness of ‘any incident’ and ‘perceived hostility’, the main point that is being talked about here is Hate Crime, which in most cases is hostility, and verbal or physical abuse on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression or disability.

It will come as no surprise that we already have — and rightly so — existing legislation to tackle this particular form of crime. Nothing new to see here then really. Or is there?

Non-crime hate

The same day after this initial tweet, it was quickly followed up by a far more ambiguous version, as part of the same ‘Hate hurts’ campaign:

“In addition to reporting hate crime, please report non-crime hate incidents, which can include things like offensive or insulting comments, online, in person or in writing. Hate will not be tolerated in South Yorkshire. Report it and put a stop to it #HateHurtsSY
Please report non-crime ‘hate’…

Come again? “Please report non-crime hate incidents…” — right, I thought I read it correctly the first time.

So basically just report ‘hate’ that’s not a hate crime? Alright, let’s wheel the definition of hate out (right from Oxford’s finest):

Feel intense dislike for.

I hate sprouts. There, I said it.

In all seriousness though, this has the potential to open the flood gates. Someone might hate me for parking like an utter moron and hurt my precious feelings by calling me a ‘stupid plonker’. Report it, is South Yorkshire police’s advice.

Equally, I might feel an intense dislike for someone who isn’t being as polite as I expected them to be. I might even mumble ‘wanker’ under my breath. Should that be reported, if overheard?

Offensive or insulting comments

You’ll be pleased to see that SYP definition of non-crime hate includes offensive or insulting comments, online, in writing or in person. Here’s a list of a few comments I compiled, which some people may find offensive, insulting, or both:

“Your hair looks awful.”, “I thought you were smarter than that!”, “The Labour party is anti-semitic”, “The Labour party is not anti-semitic”, “Brexit will be good for the UK”, “We should have stayed in the EU”, “The catholic church is full of paedophiles”, “Islam is not a religion of peace”.

My point here is people have said polarising things like this, and others have felt insulted or took offence to those words and comments. The perception of offence or insult is incredibly subjective. And some people will indeed report these non-crime ‘hate’ incidents.

Overreaction?

Am I really worried the above examples would lead to someone being reported or convicted for a crime? Some of them perhaps not, others, reported at a minimum, yes.

Some of you will think this is all a bit an overreaction, and sound pragmatism and common sense will prevail, but unfortunately it is not quite that simple.

The first issue is that this tramples on our human rights, mainly our freedom of expression/speech rights. It’s eerily close to the concept of thought crime in George Orwell’s classic ‘1984'.

Secondly, the reports of this silly non-crime hate will go through the roof and it will still have to tie up a huge amount of police resources to look into these reports in detail and investigate thoroughly. And that is a BIG problem.

“It’s not either or…”

Here’s what Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, said on talkRadio:”…if it’s a case of either or, then of course…”, when prompted by Julia Hartley-Brewer on what has more priority, real crime, including rape, burglary etc. or someone getting their feelings hurt on Twitter.

He implies that “It’s not either or…”. I think he’s wrong.

In a country where our police forces are already understaffed and overstretched as it is, the reports of these nonsensical, non-crime incidents will clog up the policing system and will need dealing with. As police resources are clearly finite, it means looking into these reports comes at a resourcing cost: the usual paper work will need to be done and follow ups arranged to investigate each and every one of these reports. And that time could be better spent elsewhere.

On real crime. Rather than non-crime.