Guest post:

Originally a comment by latsot on Preserving mystery in legislation.

I’ve lived a sort of double life as part scientist and part engineer, so I like to come at these things from two directions. On the one hand we have the big-picture thinking described well by iknklast and Holmes: this is a terrible idea for freedom and democracy. It will be used to serve political goals, that’s inevitable. Over in the UK, we’ve installed Police and Crime Commissioners as political appointments; these are the people who would be in charge of how hate laws are implemented in practice, which makes me more than a little uneasy. The entire principle of policing in the UK is that police are supposed to be civilians, not soldiers or agents of the government.

But the engineer in me sees it from the practical angle too. The phrase that keeps occurring to me is “if all else fails, we can always get him for hate crime.”

Police hate protests because they’re difficult and expensive to manage. They’re always looking for excuses to prevent them or to ban them outright. In the UK we’ve just passed an extremely dangerous law giving police authority to arrest people in the general area of a protest without probable cause. It was used on day one to do just that. It’s roughly the equivalent of arresting someone with a paperclip of “going equipped to commit a crime” because they might conceivably pick a lock with it.

If they had hate crime laws to back them up, I have no doubt at all that UK police would use them to put as much of an end to protests as they could; not for political reasons, but purely because of cost.

There is absolutely no upside to this law that I can see and I hate to think of it serving as a model in other jurisdictions.

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