What’s the best way to cover the importance of fighting hate crime? Get an elderly white male contrarian to bulldoze over a politician who’s overwhelmingly been on the receiving end of it, of course!
And so it was that aged airwave banshee John Humphrys interviewed shadow home secretary Diane Abbott about police remarks that they should go “back to basics”, rather than tackling misogyny.
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Humphrys tried again and again to downplay sexism and racism as a hate crime – to which Abbott gave patient responses that nevertheless didn’t stop Humphrys positing, irrelevantly, that “punching you in the nose” would be worse than racist abuse.
“We’re talking about crime: abuse and violence against women because they’re women,” explained Abbott. “If society makes its goals and aims to deal with that violence and hate speech, then at the end of the day, the police can’t pick and choose which laws they enforce.”
“You’ve conflated there violence and abuse, there’s a heck of a difference there isn’t there?” asked Humphrys, Humphrily.
“If I am rude to you because you’re a woman or because you’re black, I’d be a moron and all the rest of it. But nonetheless you’d’ve survived that. If I punched you in the nose, that would be an entirely different matter, wouldn’t it?”
Abbott replied: “We’re talking about hate speech as opposed to physical violence… There’s an artificuial distinction between threats of violence and abuse and saying ‘well, it doesn’t really matter, you’ll live.’”
She added that it’s “corrosive” in society to let people “get away with” this kind of abuse.
“You’ve got to define hate crime, haven’t you?” Humphrys persisted.
“I’ll tell you what hate crime is, hate crime is being shouted at in the street…” Abbott began to explain.
“So the police should divert resources to somebody who’s shouted at in the street when there might be a kid being stabbed around the corner?”
Ever patient, Abbott laid out the horror of being on the receiving end of verbal abuse: “Being abused in the street… People feeling free to abuse people in the street and send them abusive emails and letters; that is part of that hatefulness and violence.”
“There is a difference between a child being stabbed and somebody being shouted at in the street.”
“That’s a statement of the obvious,” Abbott concluded.
Harangued on live radio about why harmful criminal activity should be treated as harmful criminal activity by Humphrys, however, must surely be classed in a category of its own…