Port: Grand Forks cops decided some offensive speech was a crime, and that's wrong
MINOT, N.D. — Recently there was an incident in Grand Forks in which a group of young men stood on top of their home and yelled things.
Among the things they yelled was "white power."
Yelling from the top of your home is idiotic. Yelling "white power" adds an extra dimension of stupidity, all the more so because there were African American children nearby who heard these dim bulbs shouting their inanities.
According to reports, these jabronis have since apologized. I hope it was sincere, and I hope they feel some shame.
Here's where we run into a problem: The Grand Forks Police Department has decided to classify this incident as a hate crime.
Grand Forks Police Chief Mark Nelson explained it this way to the Grand Forks Herald : "No crime has been charged out, but it is an integral part of a report that, based upon the information that's there, whether or not what was meant or what was allegedly said at this point in time, constituted in the reporting party's mind that they felt threatened, or that it was a disparaging remark against their children based upon race. So therefore, having to look at this situation back and forth and based on the last guidance we have relevant to (Uniform Crime Reporting) and FBI audits, we ought to classify this as a hate crime."
There are many problems with this.
For one, no actual criminal charges have been filed. How can you have a crime without a charge?
For another, we shouldn't be classifying the content of even deeply offensive and stupid speech as criminal. If this were a noise ordinance issue, then fine, but it's not. The "hate crime" classification is based on what was said, not when it was said or the volume at which it was said. Racism is ugly and awful, and not something I condone, but it's also not illegal.
Racist speech is still speech, and it has First Amendment protections.
But perhaps even more problematic is who made the decision, at least statistically speaking, about the existence of a crime in this situation.
It was the cops.
That's not right.
It's not up to the police to decide whether or not there has been a crime. That's not their job, nor do they have the training for it. It is the job of the police to establish facts about potential crimes, and then forward those facts on to prosecutors who make a determination about pressing charges. If charges are filed, a court proceeding will then determine whether anyone did commit a crime.
Yet in this incident, some morons shouting moronic things was decided to be a crime based on the judgment of just the cops.
This incident, which received zero scrutiny in a court of law, will be counted as a "hate crime" in statistics used to inform public policy debate in North Dakota and across the nation.
That's a problem, not least because it undermines the integrity of crime statistics.
A "hate crime" should involve a real crime, not just offensive behavior, and the fact of whether or not a crime was committed should be established through our criminal justice system, not by some law enforcement bureaucrat ticking boxes on a form.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .