It wasn’t my hashtag. But I wish it had been. I wish I had the ovaries not just to think it, but say it.
I accept that it upset and horrified many and gave too easy a target for those numerous anonymous accounts who like to mutter and jeer from the sidelines. So it was right to reflect and apologise.
But we do need to talk about hate — what it means and what we do about it.
Let me tell you a story. I was born in 1970 with proximal focal femoral deficiency. My left femur and the bones adjacent to it just didn’t grow right. For the first 12 years of my life, until they could amputate most of the weird twisted little thing that became my left leg, I had to wear an artificial leg like some kind of enormous lace-up boot. I was obviously disabled. I looked funny, I walked funny.
For my first 12 years, I faced frequent physical and verbal attacks because of this. ‘Peg leg’. ‘Wooden leg’. ‘Cripple’. I have a very clear memory, aged six, asking a teacher for help. He looked embarrassed and turned away. It’s a hard lesson to learn when you are six, that you are on your own.
Luckily for me I had the temperament not to go down but to fight — and I mean that literally. My willingness to stand up to bullies (physically if necessary) meant that attacks on my body began to diminish. The verbal attacks, however, did not. By the time I was a teenager, I was marked out in more silent ways: I wasn’t invited to parties, I didn’t have a boyfriend.
I bided my time. I knew life would get better once I could get out of my home town. And it did.
But comments about the way I walk remain a constant feature of my life, albeit and very happily, not as frequent as they once were. The last time it happened was about a year ago when I was walking home. A car sped past me and a man leaned out of the window and shouted ‘cripple’.
Why? All I was doing was walking home. What was the impetus for that act? What was going on in that man’s mind? Why did he think this was an acceptable thing to do? How did it make him feel?
My guess is that it made him feel (briefly) powerful. My guess is that it was a momentary distraction from a bleak life, with little going on to make him feel worthwhile. Or, of course, he could simply have been an evil shit.
I will never know. It all happened so quickly, I couldn’t get the car number plate. And even if I had — what do I think would have happened if I reported it to the police.
Also a year ago, a man took umbrage when I nearly clipped his car on a narrow country lane. He decided to chase me as I drove my teenage daughter home. He forced my car to stop and screamed for me to get out. I refused. I drove away and he followed me at about 70 mph, bumping my car.
My daughter managed to start filming him with her phone and he dropped away. I called the police a few miles down the road. They initially refused to do anything, saying it sounded like ‘minor criminal damage’. I called them back to complain; I said this man had tried to kill us. He would do it again. He was dangerous. This time they agreed.
But they couldn’t find the car. My daughter found it in five minutes on the DVLA website. They took three months to organise a video identification parade by which time I could barely remember what he looked like. I had been concentrating on trying to get my daughter to safety.
So I couldn’t identify him. And he wasn’t charged. So he is still out there. And he will, I am sure, kill someone eventually.
If this man couldn’t be brought to a court, what do I think the police would have done with the man who shouted ‘cripple’ at me from a moving car? They could record the incident. Maybe if he applied for a job with vulnerable people, it would come up on the DBS check and he wouldn’t get the job. And what would that achieve? He would still be hateful. But now unemployed. Even angrier and bitter. Even more hateful.
We are losing our way. ‘Hate’ will not be tackled via criminal law. Particularly not in our current situation, where ‘hate’ is defined as ‘unfriendliness’ or ‘resentment’ and especially not when individuals are allowed an entirely subjective claim as to what they think is ‘hate’ and ‘hate’ becomes weaponised as a useful way to damage the reputation and livelihoods of people you decide you don’t like.
I am not a hateful person. I have experienced far too much hate directed at me for something I didn’t want and didn’t choose, to ever knowingly direct ‘hate’ at another.
But I am now recorded by at least two separate police forces for ‘hatred’ against religious and transgender people.
If you think the police’s obsession with hate incidents every time someone says something stupid is wrong, please consider donating to my crowdfunder as I attempt via the courts to strike down the hate crime guidance.
We need to wake up. People are ‘hateful’ for a wide variety of reasons. Some, of course, are evil shits. They do great harm and the rest of society needs to be protected from them. But the majority are I think, not so much hateful as ignorant or afraid. And those people can be reached. By discussion. By education. By love.
So. It wasn’t my hashtag. But I understand it and support it. And if it made you feel uneasy or made you think then it served a purpose. If it made you think that you can no longer support Fair Cop or what it is trying to do, that is your right. Go, and do better. I will be cheering you on.
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