"Incidents can feel like a crime to those affected."
The South Yorkshire police department in England was accused online of trying to monitor speech after asking
citizens to report "non-crime hate incidents ."
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 pic.twitter.com/p2xf6OLoQZ— SouthYorkshirePolice (@syptweet) September 9, 2018
The tweet, which is part of a larger campaign against hate crimes, gathered more than 9,000 replies as of Tuesday.
By seeming to suggest that English security forces are prepared to police personal offenses, the tweet has tapped into a growing concern that cultural sensitivity and identity politics might take precedent over free speech.
European Parliament member Patrick O'Flynn, who represents the right-wing populist party Ukip, slammed the police department's statement as an attack on freedom.
So freedom of expression within the law will not be tolerated in South Yorkshire. You cannot abolish “hate” by edict. Police lost plot. https://t.co/e6oOa9kKXp— Patrick O'Flynn (@oflynnmep) September 10, 2018
I'd suggest a copy of this for all officers. Oh, and watch Minority Report. You could probably just lock a good 25% of the public away now and call it crime prevention: just don't use racial profiling to decide who. That would be a hate crime. pic.twitter.com/AZCnrS6P6U— Jo Kneale (@AngelKneale) September 10, 2018
Many commenters agreed that the tweet expresses an extension of PC culture, bordering on the authoritarian.
Here's a behind-the-scenes look at the South Yorkshire Police Headquarters. pic.twitter.com/r2O0xVRuVl— Rich Hawkins (@RichHawkins4) September 11, 2018
Many commenters worried about the vagueness of the police announcement.
Please can I ask what you do with any information reported in this way? Do you store it? Do you keep a file on people's (legal but possibly hateful) activities? Can you not see the Stasi-esque implications of your tweet?— Daniel Blanche (@sgingerthoughts) September 11, 2018
Oh really?— Neil J Wood -Motospeed Industries (@MotospeedValet) September 10, 2018
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me, learnt when we were about 4 years old
Given that the numbers of officers has declined by 15 percent since 2010, the department is not exactly well-positioned to expand their jurisdiction.
Robbery, burglary and muggings in South Yorkshire are up 39% in the 18 months to March 2018, compared to the prior 18 months. Fantastic use of resources here though.— Home Defence (@HomeDefence_UK) September 11, 2018
Still, the "woke" police force stood by their tweet. On Monday, they doubled down on its claim that mean words can turn into real crimes.
"Incidents may not be criminal offences," went the response tweet, "but can feel like a crime to those affected & can sometimes escalate to crimes."
Police can only prosecute when the law is broken, but we want to know about non-crime hate incidents. Incidents may not be criminal offences but can feel like a crime to those affected, & can sometimes escalate to crimes. More info on our website: https://t.co/yJGyHXT7LM— SouthYorkshirePolice (@syptweet) September 10, 2018
The police noted that it can only prosecute people who broke the law, but nevertheless "want to know about non-crime hate incidents."
In a Tuesday interview with LBC's Nick Ferrari, South Yorkshire Police Commissioner
"If someone is saying, 'look, I've been verbally abused several times now by these people in these circumstances and it's causing me distress, it's causing my family distress, it's causing my community distress,' it's important that the police investigate," Billings said.
South Yorkshire Police asked the public to report "non-crime hate incidents". Nick Ferrari's extraordinary interview with their Police Commissioner is . pic.twitter.com/M72FhwobkM— LBC (@LBC) September 11, 2018
However, it appears a one-time offender has already fallen victim to South Yorkshire's speech policing: A
Adam, who wanted to protect his identity but stated he is also of Asian heritage, said that while his friend took the doodle well, and even found it funny, someone else came across it and reported it to police.
He said the officer told him if the incident had happened
Germania is a staff writer at Pluralist.
You can reach her on Twitter.