UK takes next step towards jailing people for thought crime
The excuse that “it was only a joke” will no longer fly in British courtrooms. On Tuesday, a former member of West Mercia Police was sentenced to 20 weeks in prison for sharing memes mocking the death of George Floyd.
The memes, which were shared in a private WhatsApp group with his friends, included pictures depicting George Floyd’s death, such as one featuring him as George of the Jungle, and another with a Muslim kneeling on him where a prayer mat ought to be, according to Sky News.
Former constable James Watts, who pleaded guilty to 10 counts of sending a grossly offensive or menacing message by public communication network, was initially ordered to pay measly compensation of £75 to the complainant, alongside a victim surcharge and a small court fee. However, the presiding judge, Tanveer Ikram, took it upon himself to make an example of Watts.
In delivering the 20-week prison sentence, Ikram declared that the former police officer “undermined confidence the public has in the police,” and that his behavior brought the organization into disrepute.
It’s enough time for anyone to think things over – but perhaps not in the way that Ikram might expect. Rather than be apologetic, one might instead be obstinate and defiant in the face of such injustice. After all, it is not the judge’s job to make an example of anyone. His job is merely to uphold and carry out the law.
The bottom line here is that a police officer, or really, just a member of the public, has been handed a lengthy prison sentence for a joke. Or 10 memes, in Watts’ instance.
Watts didn’t share his jokes on a public platform – he did so in the privacy of a closed WhatsApp group. There was little expectation that anyone outside the group would be aware of the jokes, much less be impacted by them. It’d be a whole different story if Watts used a Twitter account to harass supporters of George Floyd online. There was an expectation of privacy when he shared his memes.
The magistrate’s claim that Watts violated Britain’s Communications Decency Act of 2003 sets a worrying precedent that all future jokes, told in private or otherwise, could conceivably be treated as imprisonable offenses – even if they’re among friends and family.
Watts displayed a gross lack of professionalism, because a man who treats people differently on the basis of race cannot be expected to enforce the law fairly – and it rightly cost him the ability to work in any policing role for life. He also exposed himself as a racist, but being a racist per se is not a crime that should be punishable by jail time.
Britain has a long and colorful history of telling jokes – especially dark ones. And with humor, no one is above criticism, least of all a career criminal with a long history of violence. Indeed, one of Britain’s most notoriously offensive comedians, Frankie Boyle, hosts his own show on BBC Two. The comedian, who rose to infamy for cracking jokes about dead children and disabled people, now seeks to educate his viewers on sensitivity and wokeness. Had Boyle made the same jokes as former PC Watts, he would’ve been let off with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, just as he’s gotten away for years by joking about Madeleine McCann and other murdered and abducted children.
Watts was an easy target for the courts. Without any celebrity behind his name, the police officer was made an example of by a judge seeking to send a message to the masses.
Over the past couple of decades, Britain has seen a slow erosion of its previously classical liberal values. It’s no longer the bastion of free speech it once was. Even as it seeks to lecture other countries on democracy and liberalism, freedom for British citizens has become tenuous at best.
In Scotland, YouTuber and comedian Mark Meechan was convicted for making a joke about Nazis with his girlfriend’s pet pug. Some particularly sensitive individuals complained to the police, and Meechan was arrested and forced to cough up a fine over the clear misunderstanding. The court dismissed his defense that it was just a joke intended for his girlfriend, on the grounds that she was not subscribed to his channel.
Former Scottish justice minister Humza Yousaf, who still remains in the SNP’s cabinet, introduced the Hate Crime Bill in 2018, which was the boldest (or really, worst) effort yet to police speech in Scottish households. Yousaf insisted that existing laws, which allow people to use, in the privacy of their homes, language that is deemed illegal in public, be repealed and that such conversations held over the dinner table “must be prosecuted.”
Similar efforts are being made by the Trudeau government in Canada to combat so-called hate speech through amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, which propose defining the communication of hate speech on the internet.
Just as it’s being applied in the United Kingdom, Canada’s speech laws define “hate speech” as any content that vilifies or detests an individual or group on the basis of a protected ground of discrimination, including race, disability, gender, sexual identity, and so on. In other words, you could go to jail over any careless word about George Floyd once the law passes.
Britain, Canada, and perhaps the Western world as a whole, are spiraling into an Orwellian nightmare as so-called “liberal” governments and their allies in Big Tech move to stamp out freedom of speech under the guise of fighting against “hate speech” and “disinformation” – vague terms that can be used to justify prosecutions of anyone opposed to the establishment.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.