Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Uncrime

So, a word without a definition leads us to crimes without definitions.

In Britain,

Race-hate crime is a serious business. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry defined a racist incident as 'any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person'. This definition has now been adopted by all police forces.

This is good because, while we police officers love to do the extra paperwork brought on by a racist incident, we are not always very good at identifying them, and we have to be helped out.

For example, the control-room operator. It may appear he is just a civilian sitting in a room 48 miles from where an incident took place, but in fact he is capable of sensing racism through the phone line.

Today I'm visiting Indira Patel, who was racially abused a week ago. 'To be honest, I'm surprised you came,' she says as I arrive. It seems some youths damaged a glass panel on her door.

She says it happens to all the flats on the end of rows in her block because that is where kids hang around smoking cannabis.

I shuffle some papers. 'It says something about racist abuse here.' She looks amazed. 'Goodness, no. I must say, the call-taker did keep asking me if it was a racist incident. I thought it was odd.'

[...]

I email the Scrutineer, requesting a reclassification to criminal damage, and a removal of the reference to racism. The Scrutineer rings me. 'About this racist incident. We can't just reclassify it. How do you know it wasn't racist?'

'The victim doesn't think it was.'

'Well, how does she know it wasn't?'

'Um . . . well, how do you know it was?'

There's a silence then she replies: 'I will change it to a criminal damage, but unless you can provide verifiable evidence it was not racist, the classification has to stand.'

I begin to doubt my sanity. 'How did it become a racist incident in the first place? The victim doesn't think it is, for goodness' sake.'

'If someone perceives it to be racist, it is.'

'It looks like the only person who perceives it to be racist is the Crime Centre.'

'Well, that is "someone".'