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Is freedom of speech always a good thing?

S
o, the now infamous Racist Woman On The Tram has been arrested, charged with "racially/religiously aggravated intentional harassment".

Should speaking your mind be a criminal offense? Fellow blogger and writer Oura doesn't think so, but I believe the UK's hate speech laws (the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 prohibits anyone "from causing alarm or distress", whilst the Public Order Act 1986 declares, "A person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up racial hatred) are a good thing. In America, where freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Westboro Baptist Church is permitted to picket the funerals of dead soldiers with banners delcaring "Thank God for dead soldiers".

Is that the kind of society we want to live in? Oura and I discussed the issue.

Oura

It's not as drastic as everyone is making it out to be I thought personally. The issue of a child's safety aside, it seems like people are condemning her for speaking her mind, and really, truly, no one has the right to do that (beyond telling her to shut up) regardless of what she said as when you get down to it, they are just words. Not my intent to defend racism in any way, but neither do I really care what a random person on a tram thinks regardless of how vulgar it may be. If the only reason she was arrested is because of what she said, rather than her apparent state of health and ability to care for the child, then I think that could indicate a much bigger problem.

Either way, I stand by my earlier comment. One loud woman on a bus, granted talking shit for everyone to hear, is not particularly a drastic situation. How does this equal her being arrested?

As far as what she was saying, it is not my mission in life to educate every racist person, or any individual on their stupidity. I'm most likely far from qualified, as I have been known to aggravate people who are fond of things that are "PC".

It may just be me living in my own little bubble, but I didn't realise saying something racist was considered an "aggravated offence" unless it involved some kind of physical contact? Again, not defending racism, but is it not a bit scary if you can be arrested just for saying something?

How many other things will that grow to encompass?

ka-os|theory

It's not just saying something, it's "intimidation - putting people in fear of violence" - the other people in the tram would understandably be in fear of being physically attacked, or worse, that such hate speech could incite others to attack. That's how these things start!

Oura

Have a look at the tram... she's surrounded by majority ethnic groups, with only a few Caucasians, two of which are school girls it looks like, and two of which also have a child in a pram. Who exactly would have been "incited" to attack? Also I don't like that term to begin with but that's an aside. I can agree that it might have been intimidating for some because of the way she was speaking and how loud she got, but at the same time she stayed in her seat the entire time and there was no overt aggressiveness in her behaviour beyond the words.

ka-os|theory

This specific incident aside, I'm talking about how the law is applied in general: why it's an offense to use hate speech. People can't be permitted to cause distress and alarm in the way she did.

Oura

When it comes to racism people tend to slide backwards in their think way too fast for me. Apart from voicing beliefs that are inherently stupid, albeit in a loud and intrusive way, she didn't do anything wrong.

This whole idea of "inciting or enticing others to commit crime" doesn't sit well with me. If that were the case I'm quite sure many a street preacher should be arrested on sight after this incident if that's how we're rolling.

Regardless of what I may or may not think of racism, my point is simply: if we're now arresting people for speaking out of turn, I'm a bit scared.

Outside of what was said, she didn't do anything aggressive, nor did she try to "entice" or "incite" anyone else to do anything. In fact she could barely formulate what she wanted to say half the time. I would guess she probably had trouble standing up properly as well though the clip didn't go that far.

ka-os|theory

Screaming and ranting at people is aggressive! You're splitting hairs. She wasn't just talking, she was verbally accosting a tram full of people. Whether you like it or not, behaviour like that can incite hate and violence in others, either at the time, or afterwards.

The (deserved) public backlash against this "mother and child" (as people who sympathise with her will paint her) could result in incidents of violence against ethnic minorities. That's an example of incitement. Or the youth sitting behind her, who's clearly distressed, might have done something he'd regret, either at the time, or afterwards. Incitement.

You're trying to make some high-minded argument about freedom of speech - fine, that's America. You think things are better there? The UK has laws against hate speech, which she broke. That's why she was arrested.

Oura

I'm not trying to be high-minded, I just don't think people should be arrested over words unless there is an intended threat. I guess it's easier for me to say it's not aggressive watching it back secondhand, but actually she did reach the point of screaming at everyone in general so I should take that on board.

Still though, people need to take responsibility for their own actions. Saying that this person having a rant could cause other crimes puts a lot of power behind this one woman, and makes the people who committed the crimes really dumb and weak-minded. They'd be responsible, not some random woman who ranted in their general direction a couple hours ago on a tram.

From my point of view she was just a loud, annoying woman. I've been on the bus with lots of people like that, some mentally ill and others just rude and racist. As far as I'm concerned it was annoying to have to listen to, but as long as they stay seated and their only saying stuff but not doing stuff, it's none of mine. As I say I'd probably tell them to shut up once or twice, but any more than that and I'd just be adding to the noise.

It's like when the other woman shouted "you're waking up my baby" - if that's the case why are you shouting as well? It's just adding fuel to the fire.

Back to what she was actually saying, again, if she's being arrested for saying "go back to niggrorione" then I think there are more than a thousand street preachers who need to be arrested for telling me and countless others that we'll burn in hell.

If it's for public disturbance and harrasment then I'd understand, but I don't think calling people names, however sensitive the names are, should be a crime unless it involves some kind of intended threat.

2 comments:

thegayte-keeper said...

I think it is a good and bad thing.

Prince Toddy English said...

I think her child should be removed from her custody. I think her manner of thinking is a form of child abuse. Furthermore, she was putting herself and that kid in physical danger. Anyone on that train could have been crazy enough to try and do something.
I am neither here nor there on this issue. It is a slippery slope when you start policing people's words.

 
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