If someone says, or tweets, something hateful towards trans people, should the police get involved?
In the US, constitutional protection of speech, held to include burning crosses, is fundamental, but in Britain we recognise the concept of hate speech. Hate speech oppresses particular groups, suppressing their speech, so vitiates the main benefit of free speech: hearing different perspectives so as to find the truth. But not everything that is hateful should be criminal. A hate crime involves harassment, intimidation, violence, or property damage motivated by hatred of the victim as a member of a particular group rather than as an individual. Shouting abuse in the street is a crime under the Public Order Act 1986. A hate incident is not criminal but may still offend and distress a member of a minority.
Here are the current Hate Crime Operational Guidelines, last reviewed in 2014, currently subject to a consultation. Dr Nathan Hall’s foreword (p1) makes the case for police involvement even when there is no crime: Regardless of how trivial an incident may appear initially, the actions or inactions of the police in response to that incident can have a significant impact on the way that the organisation is viewed by the community it serves.
Where there is no crime (p60) The police have limited powers in these circumstances, but should recognise that hate incidents can cause extreme distress to victims and communities and can be the precursor to more serious crimes.
Such incidents are discussed at pp60-63. Where another agency is responsible the police might not even formally record a “non-crime hate incident”- for example transphobic shouting in a school. Where no other agency is responsible, the police should record the incident. Any risks to the victim should be identified. Police forces should keep local statistics. The public may object, calling the police the “thought police” (a term from 1984), so the police should not overreact or breach the hater’s human rights.
Hate Crime on the Internet: see pp115-122. Making threats is a crime, and if the anonymous individual is in England, threatening someone in England, and can be identified then English courts have jurisdiction even if the servers are elsewhere.
There is a site, True Vision, on which to report hate crime including on the internet. Personal threats should be investigated.
Not all hate is criminal. On line, haters radicalise each other, and their hatred may spill over into real world harassment and intimidation, but criminalising the hatred is politically impossible. And while I would like the self-righteous hatred exhibited by such as WPUK rebuked, I find others called “extremists”, such as Extinction Rebellion, admirable, so don’t want criminal law to encroach too far. Yet I read that the vile Harry Miller tweeted personal abuse as well as the inanities quoted by the judge, so possibly he got away with his court action because of the evidence rather than the facts.