“‘It’s hate speech!!’ yelled one man ‘It’s free speech!!”
When I was in second grade with Ms.Silvers, at a predominantly Caucasian school with approximately 3 African-American students, I had an accidental run-in with hate speech and the regulation of it. I was a friendly, happy student. I was everyone’s friend, at least, almost everyone. One girl named Cindy, who was a cruel, mean, and heartless seven year old, was not my friend, nor I hers. In fact, she and I regularly got into shouting matches, and occasional shoving bouts, during recess and snack-time. The biggest reason I disliked Cindy so much was because she was a bully, she would use her overbearing size to get what she wanted. I was the only one who was able to stand up to her because I was the only one bigger than her, so naturally she and I got in a lot of tussles.
The year was going by quicker than I expected, Cindy and I still had our differences but nothing major had happened for a few weeks. Then one day, when I was on the playground, I got checked from behind; I sat up on the hard cement I came face to face with Cindy, and she shouted some childish insult in my face and stormed off. A week or two later, on a typical Saturday afternoon in February, a few days before Valentine’s day, my mom made me write Valentine’s Day cards, which I have to write to everyone in my class(which is a total violation of another inalienable right, but that argument is for another time). So, when I had to write a card to Cindy, making an ingenious decision, I wrote on top “Happy Valentine’s Day!!” and below that “P.S.- I hate you and nobody likes you.” Typically any violent or hateful speech act in my school was dealt with by serving one detention, this was a different scenario though, because, in a predominately caucasian school, Cindy was one of three African-American students that attended my school.
Because her skin was black, my simple case of childhood aggression turned into a hate crime. I was nearly expelled, which would have left a black spot on my permanent record, because Cindy had black skin. The reason why the school’s response was so aggressive was because they were trying to regulate my hate crime, without acknowledging that it was not intended that way. That is one of the reasons why I think that the regulation of hate speech is ineffective.
What is bullying? Some claim that it is the physical act of harming another person simply because you can, others say it is a verbal act, but now in this ,technologically advanced, day and time bullying has moved on to a more virtual portal. Cyber-bullying is the verbal abuse of another person over a webpage or internet portal. According to BullyingStatistics.org, a reliable site where one can receive information on bullying, “Bullying and cyber-bullying is responsible for 2200 youth(18 and under) suicides a year.”
In September of this year, after a year and a half of being bullied and cyber-bullied, Rebecca Sedwick threw herself off of a three-story cement silo, sparking an international scandal about cyber-bullying. The night before she passed away she told her mother that she loved her, then took her phone and cleared everything on it, and then changed her facebook name to “That Dead Girl”. Rebecca was a victim of cyber-bullying. Two girls were charged and arrested with aggravated stalking, a felony. Both culprits were youths, but the sheriff insisted that their names were released to the public so they could be the victim of cyber-bullying, and know what it felt like. Many of the prominent leaders of the town used the portals, like FaceBook or Ask.FM, as scapegoats “but to Rebecca’s family it is not the technology that is to blame but the people.”(Broderick) If hate speech was regulated properly then this event would have most likely not occurred, however, since hate speech regulation is ineffective, poor Rebecca will never know the feeling of growing up.
Imagine that you are in a sold out theater of the new movie “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” and all of a sudden you hear a scream from behind you, deeper into the theater, saying “Fiireee!!” So you do the only sensible thing, get out of the theater. However, you are not the only one thinking that you should leave, and before you know it there is a huge throng of people running towards the door thinking only one thing, run. The other people in the theater do not care about your safety, they are too focussed for their own personal welfare. You finally are in sight of the exit, then you see a friend you came here with but you are in such a thick crowd of people that you can not even lift your arms up get her attention. Now imagine you trip, you fall on the floor, and you can’t get up because people are simply stomping on top of you. Within ten seconds you are knocked unconscious and eventually wake up and you look to your right and left, see no fire, but you do see a few mangled bodies of people whom fell and weren’t as lucky as you were. Now, what if I told you that there never was a fire. It was just a teenage girl trying to pull a prank.
The scenario I just described provides a perfect example of when hate speech needs to be regulated. It is inappropriate for her to be yelling that because her saying that threatens the people around her, and they did not give her consent to put them in danger. I think that this constitutes as hate speech because when she yells fire she starts a frenzy that is life-threatening. Merriam-Webster, a world renowned dictionary, defines hate speech as “any speech, gesture, conduct, writing, or display that is forbidden because it may incite violence against or by a certain group of people.” If hate speech was regulated more efficiently than that girl may have known the potential result of her hypothetical action and never have put the safety of the people in the theater at risk.
Another appropriate example of the ineffectiveness of the regulation of hate speech is the Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin scandal that occurred approximately a month and a half ago. Incognito and Martin were teammates on the NFL(National Football League) team, the Miami Dolphins. Incognito was a veteran in terms of the NFL and Martin was a rookie, so naturally there was some bullying, or hazing(which is very real I assure you). But it wasn’t the physical aspect of the hazing that sparked a national scandal, it was the verbal. Incognito called Martin one night and furiously screamed into the phone:
“Hey, wassaup, you half n----- piece of s---. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] s--- in your f------ mouth. [I’m going to] slap your f------ mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. F--- you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”
That was just an excerpt from the very extensive message that Incognito left for Martin, that Martin then decided to go public with making him the face of rookie hazing in the NFL. However, Gyasi Ross, a reporter for the Huffington Post, makes an incredibly legitimate point by claiming, “Bullying is to football as much as football is to football”. Of course there will be some testosterone fueled bullying when it comes to sixty-five men who do competetive, heavy physical labor every day. You have to be able anticipate that something like this would happen when you make the decision to be in such a high-tension environment for a large portion of your life. Ross puts it best when he says, “Let’s not pretend that sportsmanship is a vital part of the game.” From the moment Martin announced that he was being hazed and bullied the story spread like wildfire and instantly became a national story. Incognito was a household name, all because this verbal hate crime was handled, and regulated, ineffectively. I know how Martin felt, I am verbally and physically hazed all the time because I am the only freshman that practices and plays with the travel team and older players. However, I have come to the conclusion that I will stay strong through it and then, when I am in a place of power(AKA upperclassman), I will put a stop to it, or at least try to lighten the load. If I were Martin that is the approach I would’ve taken for the situation.
A question I asked myself whilst researching this topic was; can the government even regulate hate speech under the First Amendment? One of the most dramatic First Amendment battles of the 1970’s took place in Skokie, Illinois, a Chicago suburb with a very large Jewish population. Members of the National Socialist Party of America (American Nazi Party) wanted to march in uniform to declare their support for white supremacy. Skokie’s town officials made ordinances designed to block the march, which the Nazis immediately challenged, successfully. The debate was simple: the Nazis claimed the right of free speech while their Jewish "targets" claimed the right to live without intimidation. The town managed to stall the Nazi march by winning a court injunction claiming that the march would spark violence. In the end the Nazis won the case and had the right to march in Skokie. However, they never exercised that right. The underlying question here is: can mental injuries, such as those suffered by Holocaust victims who might watch a Nazi march, ever justify a ban on such marches?
Another great example of when hate speech remained unregulated was in the supreme court case Snyder v Phelps. In 2011 the Supreme Court overturned a jury verdict against a Kansas based anti-gay church group that picketed the funeral of a marine who died on duty, in Iraq. (This group, Westboro Baptist, believes that soldiers' deaths are a punishment against America for tolerating homosexuality). A Maryland jury found them guilty, and concluded that the picketing by the group targeted the soldier's parents with mental and emotional damage. Eventually this trial makes it’s way to the Supreme Court where Chief Justice Roberts realized that the Westboro group's speech was generally about a matter of public concern, that the group followed all city laws and police department requests, and that the funeral itself was not interrupted. Knowing this, Roberts claimed, "We cannot react to Snyder's pain by punishing the speaker. As a nation we have chosen a different course; to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate." Thus revealing all the “power” that the government has to regulate hate speech is non-existent, the government can do nothing to punish you as long as you follow the law.
So if the government is unable to regulate hate speech, why isn’t hate speech a more prominent issue in today’s society? Because of groups like “No Hate Speech Movement”. These groups are trying to make the world a better place by; raising awareness, reducing acceptance levels of hate speech, and to support, encourage, and show solidarity. Groups like this will travel around the country, some travel the world, and talk to today’s youth about hate speech, and why you should avoid it, they stop hate speech by simply discouraging it. These people, people like the employees of the “No Hate Speech Movement”, are one of the few things that stand in between civilization and chaos, these people are the ones that truly, effectively regulate hate speech.
In my eighteen years I have been alive I have realized that the world has been growing gradually more sensitive to verbal probes. I remember being verbally bullied in kindergarten and the teacher would always recite to me, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”, and then send me on my way. If a child complains about bullying now, both children’s parents are called in and they discuss, potentially for hours, how they should handle the situation. In conclusion, hate speech is ineffectively regulated by the government because the first amendment prevents them from chastising someone for what they say. The only person who can regulate hate speech effectively is you, you are the only person who decides what you say, you decide whether it will be hurtful or helpful. I wish someone had educated me on the implications that sending out Cindy’s Valentine’s Day card would have on me before I did it, but I learned from my mistake, I can only hope Cindy did too.