PCSO Connor Freel was born a woman, but now identifies as a man. A transgender activist and police officer, Freel was on foot patrol in the northern Welsh town of Mold last October when he was heckled by 19-year-old Declan Armstrong, who shouted “Is it a boy or is it a girl?” at him.
Insulting? Yes. Insensitive? Yes. A hate crime? Yes, Mold Magistrates’ Court decided this week.
The court heard how Freel was left “vulnerable, distressed and embarrassed” by the incident. Armstrong was found guilty of violating the Welsh Public Order Act 1986 by “using abusive or insulting words with intent to cause harassment.” The teen was ordered to pay £590, including £200 in compensation to PCSO Freel, and was slapped with a curfew order for 12 weeks.
According to the judge, the “transphobic” nature of Armstrong’s comments was an aggravating factor, and elevated his punishment from a low-level one to a medium.
However, Freel has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. According to the National Autistic Society, “People with Asperger syndrome often have difficulty ‘reading’ other people – recognising or understanding others’ feelings and intentions,” and may at times “appear to be insensitive.” A person with Asperger syndrome struggles to understand social cues, and will often have no idea what’s inappropriate to say.
The judgment reveals the inherent impossibility of fairly prosecuting hate crime cases in the modern world of identity politics. Balancing the offense Freel took as a transgender man versus the offense Armstrong gave as someone on the autistic spectrum is beyond the remit of the law, which should dispassionately evaluate facts, not try to sift through the subjective jumble of human emotion.
Intersectionality, the favorite framework of the social justice brigade, sees the world as an interconnected web of disadvantage and discrimination, power and privilege. To its adherents, society is not a cohesive whole, nor is it a galaxy of unique individuals. Rather it is a collection of tribes, constantly at war and separable by skin color, gender, sexuality, nationality, disability, etc.
Who is more disadvantaged, and therefore deserves financial or judicial redress? A black transgender woman or a disabled white male? Does the white male’s disability cancel out the inherent privilege of his skin color? These are the kind of questions the social justice movement concerns itself with answering.
But doing this through the legal system is an impossible task. In the case of Freel, the judge was essentially asked to decide which party was more vulnerable, and settled on the transgender police officer. Armstrong’s “transphobia” outweighed his Asperger’s diagnosis, and the teenager was ruled the oppressor. His guilt stemmed from how Freel felt at the time of the incident, not necessarily from what Armstrong said.
Needless to say, as cases like this enter the legal lexicon and become the basis for future judgments, we can look forward to more Twilight Zone rulings, where the courts attempt to boil the complexity of normal human interaction down to an ‘Oppression Olympics’ point-scoring event, and where hurt feelings replace hard evidence.
The number of hate crimes recorded by police in Britain has steadily climbed upward every year since 2012. The majority of these crimes are public order offenses – rude words, racial slurs and harassment. While those brought to court will have to grapple with a legal system ill-equipped to pass judgment on matters of thought, feeling, and perception, law-abiding citizens will have to ponder another troubling question.
Freel’s counsel told the court that the 25-year-old officer now feels “reluctant” to patrol by himself in the future. If a police officer can be scared off the street by an offensive remark, how can he ever hope to protect the public from terrorism, knife crime, and drug gangs?
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