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Hate Crimes, Google Glasses, and Victim Blaming

I have a piece up at the Daily Dot about a woman in San Francisco who was attacked because she wore Google Glass to a bar, and referred to it as a “hate crime.” So many issues to pull apart! Here’s an excerpt:

[C]alling something a “hate crime” adds a certain tone of immediacy and violation to it. I’m not surprised people often call things hate crimes when they’re not. Being mugged or even assaulted isn’t that uncommon, but being a victim of a hate crime is very uncommon—especially if you’re an affluent straight white person. Our criminal justice system is centered on perpetrators, not victims. There is no justice system to help victims of crimes restore a sense of safety and bodily autonomy. We have an institution to punish criminals, but not to support victims. Maybe referring to one’s experience as a hate crime is a way to garner sympathy that may otherwise be difficult to come by.

But “hate crime” does not mean “the perpetrator hates who I am as a person.” It doesn’t mean “this felt especially bad.” It means that the crime was committed with the intent of harming a person who is a member of a social group that has historically been subject to stigma, prejudice, and discrimination—not just on the interpersonal level (as occurs when, say, a white person dislikes a black person), but on the institutional level (as occurs when, say, black people are more likely to be arrested and convicted of crimes that are more likely to be committed by white people). The reason “hate crime” is an important category of crime to define and track this way is because it’s important to understand the effects of institutional oppression, especially since promoting hate against these groups encourages further attacks against them.

Do Google Glass wearers, or technology enthusiasts more broadly, fit into this category of groups? The answer is clearly no. They have not historically been denied rights according to other people. They do not suffer from poverty, sexual assault, violence, abuse, or unemployment at significantly higher rates than other people. They are not generally considered unfit to be friends, partners, parents, employees, or tenants. They are not targeted by the police for unjust stops and searches, and they are not given harsher sentences for committing the same crimes as other people. While people labeled “nerds” or “geeks” sometimes face ridicule or bullying, so do people who have red hair or whose last names sound funny.

Read the rest.

Comments

  1. says

    On the one hand, I can’t condone what was done to this person — it was an illegal assault, and the spirit that drove it could have got out of hand and resulted in far more harm than the mere loss of a pricey gadget.

    OTOH, I can sort of understand why people on their leisure time would react badly to a person wearing a surveillance device, recording everything he/she sees, and broadcasting it to gods-know-who for gods-know-what-purpose. If the intent is to record, say, cops abusing their authority, fine. But such surveillance can be used for far less noble purposes. What if someone wanted to record me saying things my employer might not like, then broadcasting it everywhere so my employer could see it and fire me? I’d certainly be very wary of socializing with anyone wearing such a device, and I’d at least have a right to ask who I would ultimately be talking to. The whole point of leisure time is to be able to let down one’s guard; and that can’t happen if I know someone is recording what I say and do for unknown purposes.

    • says

      OTOH, I can sort of understand why people on their leisure time would react badly to a person wearing a surveillance device, recording everything he/she sees, and broadcasting it to gods-know-who for gods-know-what-purpose.

      That seems to be an assumption, though. Google Glass has other functions besides recording video and there doesn’t seem to be evidence that she was wearing it for the purpose of “recording everything he/she sees and broadcasting it to gods-know-who.” From what I can tell, the woman didn’t start recording video until the women started insulting and swearing at her. (At that point, recording video is a smart move because it can provide evidence if the situation escalates, as it did, and we know how cops are about believing women.)

      • says

        “Google Glass has other functions besides recording video….”

        It does, however, have the function of recording video, and in such a way as to make it impossible to tell if they are recording or not. At least with a camera or phone, one has to hold it up: with Google Glass, people do not have even that clue.

        There is a growing debate over whether the glasses would be legal in Washington State: with narrow exceptions, it is illegal to record “Private conversation, by any device electronic or otherwise designed to record or transmit such conversation regardless how the device is powered or actuated without first obtaining the consent of all the persons engaged in the conversation.” (RCW 9.73.030(1)(b) ) The fact that there is no visual indication — no glowing red “Recording” light visible to nearby people — will certainly make the inevitable lawsuits interesting.

        • says

          I mean, I’m a million times more comfortable with Google Glass being banned by governments or establishments than I am with concerned citizens taking matters into their own hands, as it were.

          Anyway, I was just challenging the assumption that just because she’s wearing it, she must be recording video of random people.

        • A Masked Avenger says

          It does, however, have the function of recording video, and in such a way as to make it impossible to tell if they are recording or not.

          You make it sound so surreptitious! Strapping a camera to my freaking head, and then staring at you continuously (since the camera only points where my face is pointed), with the recording light glowing cheerily at you (because, yes, it does have a recording light). Yeah, that’s such a stealthy way to record people! Soon private eyes everywhere will be doing that! And it doesn’t matter that the batteries will die after 30 minutes of video recording, right? Because every 30 minutes I’ll just plug my face into a wall outlet, right?

          Basically, people who think this is a good way of taking surreptitious video have no freaking clue how it works. They’re showing the level of ignorance I’ve only seen in very elderly technophobes, who imagine their credit card is also a tracking device.

          However, actual hidden recording devices are abundant and readily available, for relatively cheap. If I did want to record you, I’d set up a camera in a purse, or a shopping bag, or a stuffed animal, or my shirt pocket. Then I’d probably wear a Google Glass just so that when you got worked up about it I could stick it in my briefcase and put you at ease, so you’ll be more relaxed on the actual video I’m taking.

      • says

        Apologies, meant to add: State courts have created ample precedent that a private conversation held in public is still private, and that it is illegal to use a tape recorder or video camera with the intent of eavesdropping. Case law acknowledges the importance of security cameras, and has carved a large grayish area about video taping people in public. Recording audio, however, remains a very clear violation of the law.

  2. Rose Sanders says

    People were going around recording stuff before google glasses, I’ve seen cyclists with cameras on their helmets. Once a really arsey customer came into the shop I was working in wearing a helmet with this silly looking camera on top, while I thought it was rude of him I felt no desire to physically attack him.

    In Britain attacking goths is becoming recognized as a hate crime. In this instance I think it has some validity as I can think of at least one murder where the girl was beaten to death purely because of how she and her boyfriend were dressed.

  3. doublereed says

    If I’m not mistaken, a “hate crime” refers more to just a bias against an intrinsic property of the person they’re targeting. I don’t even think the “historic discrimination” matters, because there have been anti-white hate crimes recorded. I think even anti-heterosexual hate crimes have been recorded, strangely enough. (link)

    I think the reason hate crimes should be recorded is to record the level of animosity and bigotry that’s going through a society. I don’t think you necessarily need to be part of a historically discriminated group to have that kind of tracking be of value.

    It’s like the value of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Tracking hate in a society is probably a good idea. They’re strikingly different from crimes of opportunity or crimes of passion or others. You can learn how hate works, and how to fight it.

    • says

      Hate crimes are, by definition, an attack on a group or class of people inflicted upon members or perceived members of that group or class. That is to say, someone who attacks a gay person because they are or are perceived as being gay is committing a hate crime. A person who attacks a gay person as an opportunistic victim of a mugging or purse snatching is not. A person who tags a synagogue wall with Nazi and anti-Semitic graffiti is committing a hate crime; a person who tags a synagogue as part of marking gang territory probably is not committing a hate crime.

      So unless this woman was targeted specifically because of her membership or perceived membership in a group or class, it was not a hate crime. And as someone who himself has been the target of hate crimes, I feel urged to slap her myself for trivializing the real damage such crimes cause. Alas, attacking her for her membership in a group of privileged, wealthy technocrats with no clue about very real social problems probably would be a hate crime.

      • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

        Alas, attacking her for her membership in a group of privileged, wealthy technocrats with no clue about very real social problems probably would be a hate crime.

        Oh, hey…

        Her attackers seemed angry because they saw her as a member of the Bay Area’s tech elite, which many in the area see as taking over the city and driving out those who can’t afford the rising prices.

        • doublereed says

          You can’t include ‘tech elite’ or whatever in there. I don’t know what that means.

          Hate crimes really shouldn’t be about such arbitrary distinctions or political groupings like that. We don’t talk about ‘anti-libertarian’ hate crimes or ‘anti-feminist’ hate crimes or something. Would gang-warfare be characterized as “anti-blood” and “anti-crip” hate crimes? It’s not just ‘part of a group.’

          I get the analogy toward hate crimes, but that simply doesn’t seem to be what ‘hate crime’ refers to.

          • doublereed says

            I’m not exactly sure what is unclear about my post. I was trying to say that the term “hate crime” does not refer to political groupings, but things like race, creed, color, sexual orientation, etc.

            If you include hate crimes against “the tech elite”, then I would say that the gang warfare between crips and bloods would also qualify. Sometimes people get attacked or harassed for their perceived association with one gang or another. Do you disagree? I would say that’s too broad, personally. Would you say that gang warfare are hate crimes as well?

          • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

            I responded to a specific hypothetical-case assertion another poster made by pointing out that the OP contained a statement that substantially resembled it. Where the fuck did any of the rest of that come in? Do you not understand blockquotes or something?

          • doublereed says

            Er. Yea, I got all that. I guess I misunderstood you? Rereading it, I still don’t understand how my post is a non-sequitur or how we’re talking past each other. Total miscommunication I guess lol.

  4. Scr... Archivist says

    Miri,

    Off-topic, I know, but have you seen this recent piece in the Guardian? I thought you might be interested in it, seeing as how it relates to two of your common topics.

    Dark thoughts: why mental illness is on the rise in academia
    [British] University staff battling anxiety, poor work-life balance and isolation aren’t finding the support they need
    http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2014/mar/06/mental-health-academics-growing-problem-pressure-university

  5. jesse says

    I’m going to have to go with Gregory on this.

    With Google Glass you don’t know you are being recorded and the whole purpose of the thing is to record stuff, although as you say it has other functions. But the whole ad campaign was based around that ability to record. So to say that it might not be recording anyone is a bit disingenuous I think.

    None of this justifies attacking someone. But Miri, if some dude was in a coffee shop and videotaping everyone via his laptop cam, and you were among those people, I think you would object if you did not consent to it. Saying that his laptop has other functions wouldn’t fly then either, even if he said “well, I am videotaping everyone who walks in.” And I bet money you’d be waaay more uncomfortable with someone wearing Google Glass on a nude beach, even though that’s a public place. If a guy did that and told you that you can’t assume he is recording stuff you’d call the cops, right?

    • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

      Oh for fuck’s sake, Miri was very clear that she was not criticizing people not wanting to be recorded, but the specific response of assault.

      • Shatterface says

        I thought the point of the post is that the term ‘hate crime’ is being extended beyond what it was intended to cover.

        • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

          ………

          It’s physically possible for a post to contain more than one assertion, you know.

          At least, I assume you know that.

          See what I did there?

  6. Shatterface says

    Assaulting someone for being a prick is unacceptable.

    That doesn’t mean assaulting a prick is a violation of the rights of pricks in general.

  7. John Horstman says

    Hmm. Is the only reason this is being considered an “assault” that she was wearing the Glass? If someone snatches my phone or camera out of my hand (the analogous cases of potential recording presented), is that still assault? Is it still an unjustifiable response to someone recording me when I do not wish to be recorded? Given that you can’t stop the signal once it’s out in the wild, preventing the recording is the only option for stopping what one perceives to be the harmful effects of being recorded without consent; since legal remedies cannot stop the harm but instead only result in retribution, is going after the recording device, even in cases where the device is worn and thus “assault” is necessary to get the device, really never justified?

    Your critique seems to imply that physical violence is never justified, or at least is never justified in response to non-physical violence – in this case, social/relational violence (violation of privacy and image control, two rights that are widely contested and less accepted than bodily integrity, certainly). I object to this (implied) generality – if, for example, I was standing near a woman at a bar, continually making lewd comments and refusing to stop or leave, I’d think physical engagement with me to stop the problem (in this case, to remove me from the premises) would be entirely appropriate. Going to the bouncer (or police) isn’t really a way to avoid physical violence, either, it just changes who’s engaging in it. The suggestions to simply leave or ask the person to stop are WAY too close for my comfort to the victim-blaming crap people tell victims of street harassment. The point is that other people being assholes (and Slocum was definitely being an asshole recording people who don’t want to be recorded) shouldn’t be considered a reason for certain groups of people to be excluded from a space, but instead should be a call to action for people to deem the assholery unacceptable and take steps to prevent it.

    I was going to say that “assault” (grabbing the recording device) wasn’t justified in this case (the additional thefts when Slocum ran out of the bar to try to get her Glass back certainly were not justified, and I maintain that opinion), but given my own analogy, I’m not even sure of that any more. If this were a case of someone sexually harassing people at a bar instead of non-sexually harassing them, would you still be saying that a relatively minor level of physical force in order to make the person stop isn’t justified?

    • says

      Well, I disagree that whatever Slocum was doing could be called “non-sexually harassing” someone. If someone IS harassing someone and won’t stop, then yes, violence CAN (not necessarily IS, but CAN) be a reasonable response. But I would definitely be disturbed if every single time a guy said something inappropriate, the immediate response was that another guy became physically violent towards him. Sometimes just a “Hey, stop it. NOW.” is sufficient. Violence is, I think, a sort of last resort, because it tends to escalate things rather than deescalate them and because it perpetuates more violence in its wake. That doesn’t mean it’s never appropriate or necessary; just that it shouldn’t be the first course of action taken (except in obvious self-defense situations).

  8. Lawyer says

    It means that the crime was committed with the intent of harming a person who is a member of a social group that has historically been subject to stigma, prejudice, and discrimination—not just on the interpersonal level (as occurs when, say, a white person dislikes a black person), but on the institutional level (as occurs when, say, black people are more likely to be arrested and convicted of crimes that are more likely to be committed by white people).

    You can find a summary of California’s hate crime laws here. As you can see, the perception of the victim as a member of a historically stigmatized group is not mentioned. I believe your error arose from assuming that hate crime laws hew to academic definitions of “racism,” “sexism,” etc. when in fact they do not.

    That said, I agree with your conclusion that assaulting a person because of their perceived membership in the San Francisco technological elite is probably not a hate crime.

  9. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I’ve always understood the defining characteristics of a “hate crime” to be that it is an act of criminal violence, targeted intentionally against one or more people based on their membership in a specific group, for the intention of intimidating or otherwise “sending a message” to the other members of that group – effectively, a form of terrorism. Granted, given societal demographics this usually manifests as an attack by more-privileged people on less-privileged people, but I don’t see any benefit to redefining it to be limited to that scenario. And as a person who’s mostly-privileged at a societal level but has been subject to threats of violence based on perceived group membership and extensively marginalized and abused in more individual ways, it frankly scares me.

    I feel like this is getting into “when your only tool is a hammer” territory – like in a few years I’m going to see people argue that the September 11th attacks weren’t “terrorism” because they were an attack by poor people of color who were members of a minority religion in the US, on mostly rich, mostly white people, and “terrorism by definition is directed by members of the majority against marginalized communities.”

    • queequack says

      […] in a few years I’m going to see people argue that the September 11th attacks weren’t “terrorism” because they were an attack by poor people of color who were members of a minority religion in the US, on mostly rich, mostly white people, and “terrorism by definition is directed by members of the majority against marginalized communities.”

      This already happens on tumblr.

    • queequack says

      But, yes, you’re right. As TV Tropes would say, it is one of the Unfortunate Implications of tumblr-logic. When you vigorously defend the sociologically-mandated right to hurt or hate a group of people- in other words, when you classify them as subhuman- all manner of unpleasantries can be justified.