Socialist Worker

Does criminalising hatred strike a blow to oppression?

Racists, sexists and homophobes have to be challenged, but the state won’t help us, says Isabel Ringrose

Issue No. 2777

Police powers are not the solution

Police powers are not the solution (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Reported hate crimes have risen by 9 percent to more than 124,000 since the start of the pandemic in England and Wales.

This figure is an all-time high, and the number of hate crimes recorded by police has doubled in five years. It shows that oppression is real and plays out in violent forms.

But why is hate on the rise, and is expanding what constitutes a hate crime the solution?

A hate crime is defined as “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”.

Hate crimes motivated by race make up nearly three-quarters of the total number of crimes. That’s an increase of 12 percent in the year ending March 2021.

Homophobic hate crimes increased by 7 percent and crimes based on transgender identity by 3 percent. Disability hate crimes increased by 9 percent.

Labelling something a “hate crime” comes from wanting abuse people face to be taken seriously. And it is important to know how widespread oppression is.

Limitations

In reality, defining hate crimes has its limitations. Hate crimes individualise oppressive behaviour and place the sole reason behind bigoted views on the person holding them.

A sexist is responsible for how he behaves—and has to be confronted, challenged or made accountable for his ideas or actions. But sexist ideas don’t develop in people’s heads out of nowhere.

“Hate” doesn’t manifest itself arbitrarily or inexplicably. There’s an ideological root—oppressive ideas come from the top. Oppression is embedded in the capitalist system we live in and pumped out by the state.

According to the Home Office, there have been “short-term genuine rises in hate crime following certain trigger events”.

Some say the rise in racially aggravated crimes is due to backlash after the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, particularly from the far right.

The state’s reaction to BLM, from newspapers denouncing protesters to Tory laws against pulling down statues of slavers, promotes hostility.

The end solution to this can’t be more police powers, court cases, reform of existing legal definitions and longer prison sentences

A Brexit campaign centred on kicking people out of Britain has justified racism towards immigrants.

State repression of trans people’s ability to self-identify, or Donald Trump’s racism towards east Asians during the pandemic, leads to violence.

Some women’s rights activists now want hate crimes based on sex and gender included in the data.

Campaigners argue misogyny is one of the “root causes” of violence against women. But Boris Johnson has ruled out changing the law. The Tories’ unwillingness to act isn’t surprising—the safety of women isn’t their priority.

It’s true that violence against women is carried out mostly by men because of sexism. But sexism has a much wider and systemic cause than just men hating women.

The end solution to this can’t be more police powers, court cases, reform of existing legal definitions and longer prison sentences.

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Although it’s important the state recognises that certain characteristics make people more of a target, it shouldn’t be relied on to remedy this. The state is not on our side.

More laws don’t change the way the system runs or solve why oppression exists in the first place.

Race hate crimes will get an offender longer in prison, but the justice system still disproportionately locks up black people.

For women, making ­cat-calling a specific hate crime won’t mean the police will take sexism more seriously.

It won’t stop cops being institutionally sexist and failing women in cases of violence or harassment.

The radicalism that came out of BLM and women’s movement that erupted after the murder of Sarah Everard must be acted on.

Challenging the systemic nature of oppression is what will win the greatest changes.


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