For those who don’t know, police in Manchester are now recording attacks against goths, emos and punks as hate crimes. This has come about due to the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, set up in memory of the young woman killed in 2007. Some may see this as a step in the right direction. As for me, I don’t know, I’ve always been a bit conflicted by the idea of ‘hate crimes’. And I don’t think it’s clear what effect this may actually have in Manchester.
‘Emo’ became pretty big when I was a teenager. And yeah, I had the fringe, I wore black, and before emo became a thing my good friend and I would usually get called ‘moshers’ by chav/townies/whatever the hell they were called back then. Then it was emo. Then it was kids younger than us (we were only 15/16) going “Why don’t you go slit your wrist, emo?” This happened when we were walking around our hometown, when we were on the train, anywhere really. In school, we had a uniform, but that didn’t stop some people from throwing remarks at us, though these were usually, strangely, more personal attacks than the emo/mosher ‘insults’. We lived with this day in, day out. I put up with bullying in school for reasons even now I don’t understand. (It stopped when my mum called the school after I came home crying one day. Having someone jab you in the back with a science stool, and the teacher do absolutely nothing, was the last straw.) So, that’s my personal experience.
Thing is, I grew up. I still wear black jeans, I still have my band tops and still buy Famous Stars and Straps hoodies, Atticus t-shirts and all the stuff I wanted but couldn’t afford as a kid. And I wear that sort of stuff on nights out, when there might be grown up versions of the kids I encountered years ago, drunk. Luckily, the rock-type places aren’t right next door to the types of places they might go to, but even when you do pass them – as everyone heads to the same taxi ranks – nothing happens. But people will always be dickheads. No matter what I’m wearing, whether I’m coming home from work in my work clothes, or in casual clothes on a Friday, I sometimes get comments from a group of kids who often hang out by the station (and by kids, I mean kids. They’re like fourteen). I just laugh it off. And I’m lucky, in that now, it’s a lot easier to do that.
But that’s me. Like I said, I’m lucky.
My brother spent last night in A&E with his mates. He wasn’t injured, but one of his mates had been jumped – again, by a group of kids – and beaten up. The same kids had thrown a lighter at his other mate when he was coming out of a shop. As he went to dodge it, he slipped, broke a beer bottle and sliced open his hand. And my brother, his mates, they’re not teenagers. My brother turns 30 next year, and his mates are near enough around the same age group. As they bandaged up the guy’s hand, the kids stood around, laughing, calling them long haired mosher freaks.
So what difference would it make if this had been classed as a hate crime?
To me, hate crimes have come into force in an attempt to protect those who have historically been targeted for reasons they perhaps cannot help; whether it’s because of race, religion or sexuality. One comment on one of the Guardian ‘Comment Is Free’ articles made the point, based on something they had seen, that if two people were attacked, one black and one white, because of how they dressed, the white guy could go get a job, a suit and walk safe, whereas the black guy couldn’t change the colour of his skin. Is that really the point though? Surely the point of bringing this in is to make people feel safe, to feel like they can be themselves no matter what they wear, how they look like or who they love.
Arguably, it could make people feel safer to go to the police. If someone is attacked for being a goth/emo/punk, maybe they feel they won’t get any attention from the police, they would perhaps feel they would be brushed off. If I had ever been seriously attacked as a teenager, I think I would have felt this. But even with this new classification, even knowing the police MIGHT take them more seriously (because there’s nothing to guarantee they will) will they still report it?
It’s all well and good saying the police will be stricter with people who commit ‘hate crimes’, but – and this is why I’ve always been confused – how do you define hate crime? My other brother, a year younger than the one I talked about above, got beaten up when he was a teenager for no other reason than a couple of guys didn’t like him. He didn’t dress anywhere near as ‘alternatively’ as me or my oldest brother. Neither did his friends. Yet they were still targeted, relentlessly. The police never did anything. If it had happened to me, and this hate crime classification had been in force, how is that fair? Why would an attack against me be taken more seriously than an attack against my brother?
Yes, we need to fight racism, homophobia, sexism – especially when it turns violent. But where is the line drawn? And why does there have to be a line? If I got mugged and beaten up on my way home from work, and if someone else – maybe someone goth/emo/punk – got mugged and beaten up, what’s to say it was because of the way they dressed? In some cases, I think it might be hard to say well, that’s a hate crime and that isn’t. Because to do something horrible to another human being, no matter the reason, surely it’s ALL hate crime? Whether you’re black, white, gay, straight, goth, chav, townie, jock, punk, mosher, preppy…does it seriously matter?
And this may only affect the consequences. It does nothing, really, to deter these incidents. Hell, if this came into effect here, and I was a little more goth/emo/punk than I am now, then I think it would just make me more scared. It would make me feel more that I was being targeted, that I had to be careful what I wore and as a woman, I feel like that’s a message I get enough, thanks very much. I’ve always worn what I want, what I like, and damn whoever cares. And I’ve got along well with that. But if I was suddenly made more aware of these hate crimes, then it would just make me think there were a hell of a lot more people out there committing them than I was aware of.
Maybe I’m just being cynical, but I don’t think it will stop the people committing these acts. Acts of violence against anyone is hateful enough, and hurtful, and can have physiological consequences no matter how you dress or what you look like. I still tense up if there’s a group of boys in front of me, and I shouldn’t have to feel that way. But I’ve never been attacked, and if I was…I’d like to think it was treated seriously if it was classed as a hate crime or not. I’d like to think the same would happen to both my brothers. Because the one I mentioned who wasn’t as ‘alternative’, he got attacked in Southampton, and mugged, when dressed as a geisha for someone’s birthday. Was that a hate crime? Or just a mugging?
I think hate crime confuses matters. It puts one group of people in a ‘special’ box, and might actually do no more than draw even bigger gaps between one group and another.
But, hey, maybe like I said above I am just being cynical. Maybe things will work out and maybe, just maybe, those alternative kids in Manchester will start to feel safer. Maybe they will be able to walk down the streets without the fear of being attacked or, if it all pans out, the knowledge that if they are, they will be taken seriously. Who knows?
And if you have any thoughts about this, please post in the comments below. I’d really like to know what people think about this whole thing. Think it’ll work out? Or are you as cynical as me? Or, hell, do you think ‘hate’ crime should apply across the board, not just to certain groups?