Do goths deserve to be protected under hate crime laws?

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April 7, 2013 by Nash Riggins

http://www.flickr.com/photos/46391573@N03/11770142493From now on, Manchester police will be recording all violence or abuse against goths, emos and punks as hate crimes.

Indeed, Greater Manchester Police are thought to be the first force in Britain that will treat public offences against these types of alternative subcultures in the same way they do attacks that are based upon race, religion, sexual orientation or disability – and many critics are now arguing that the move has effectively ‘watered down’ the magnitude of what it means to commit a hate crime. These critics are overlooking the bigger picture.

To be fair, it’s not hard to see where they’re coming from. After all, goths aren’t born dressed as goths – it’s a choice they’ve made in order to express themselves. Yet for the majority of others who currently claim protection under Equal Opportunities laws, choice has nothing to do with it.

These laws are generally reserved to prevent discrimination against individuals based upon circumstances of birth, upbringing, religion, sex, ethnicity, race, or involuntary personal attributes such as disability, age or sexual preferences.

The LGBT community didn’t choose their sexual preference. Black people didn’t choose to be black, and those suffering from a mental disability did not choose to suffer from a mental disability. Who the hell would assert otherwise? A leopard can’t change its spots, but a goth can. If you don’t believe me, just ask half of the kids I went to high school with.

That being said, it’s fair to say this generalisation grossly overlooks the broader issue at hand: that to confine the notion of a hate crime to just a tiny number of historically mistreated groups falsely leads us to presume that the source of the problem lies with a victim rather than their assailant.

Most of us generally look at a hate crime and shrug that the abuse in question can be traced back to some innate characteristic of the victim; however, if we opt to follow this line of logic, we’re effectively blaming victims for receiving abuse – and it’s this very idea in particular that has spearheaded the majority of criticism towards Manchester Police for deciding that goths and emos deserve to be protected under hate crime laws.

Taking a step back, it’s worth noting that this new policy was driven by the 2007 death of Sophie Lancaster. Sophie, a 20-year-old from Bacup, Lancashire, was kicked to death by a group of men just because she was dressed as a goth. Her death was appalling in every sense of the word, and it was undeniably motivated by hatred. Who would dare argue that her senseless death was self-inflicted? ‘It was her fault for dressing that way around people she knew wouldn’t like it’. This presumption is almost as naïve as it is bigoted.

As hard as it is for many of us to wrap our heads around, a vast majority of members who engage in these types of subcultures feel an inner compulsion to express themselves in a particular way. Bearing this in mind, is telling a group of people who identify with the goth community that ‘they should refrain from dressing a certain way in certain places’ not a blatant violation of that community’s freedom of expression? The government wouldn’t dare to ask a gay man to ‘act straight’ when entering a certain bar, or to tell a Muslim woman not to wear her hijab in some shops – why? Because people must be allowed to express themselves, and it’s our civic duty to protect that freedom – however ridiculous we might find it.

At the end of the day, hate is hate – and if we truly wish to live in a society that reflects our own intrinsic desire to express ourselves in full without feeling threatened, we must recognise that others deserve the exact same treatment. No, goths aren’t born goths – and yes, for some it’s just a phase. Yet the day we refuse to protect a group that’s being faced with unsolicited and irrational hatred is the day that we turn our backs on the same protection we would expect to receive ourselves. That’s a slippery slope, indeed – and one that no one should ever be allowed to encounter.

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