It's difficult to know how to act in the aftermath of the John Terry trial. I spent most of yesterday reading through Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle's judgement. In general, I was happily able to ignore the sprawling arguments regarding the fairness-unfairness of the decision that erupted across our much-beloved social media channels. Without meaning to diminish the issue, said arguments have generally been about tribal allegiances to teams rather than the letter of the law, and staying out of them struck me as a good idea.
However, a piece on the Guardian today is begging for a response. The Guardian is normally a reasonably sensible paper, and it's rare that reading one of their columns will elicit more than a slow roll of the eyes. But this... well, it's a whopper, and it's all the more disappointing coming from what most would consider a trusted, responsible source.
Warning: After the jump I'll be quoting what would normally be completely unacceptable language for this website. I don't do this lightly, and I apologise in advance for any possible offence caused.
Natasha Henry has decided to take a hard line against Terry, asserting that his defence is an unacceptable one because context is irrelevant when using racially charged language. She lays out this argument in an immensely aggressive way - allow me to quote:
Terry being found not guilty has wider implications for the sport and the black community as a whole. Is it acceptable to use racially charged language, if it cannot be proved that you did it with malice? That doesn't sit right with me. Those three words in that order are not acceptable. To suggest that they are leaves us in a dangerous position in society as I expect more people to use what is already being called "the sarcasm defence" in court.
In my opinion it would be naive of us to think that we won't see people escaping charges of using "abusive language" because the context cannot be decided. Surely the words themselves are bad enough that the context should be irrelevant?
Never mind that the sarcasm defence is a figment spun up by the media -- not once is the word mentioned out of the five thousand or so that constitute Mr. Riddle's judgement of the case -- the argument that Ms. Henry presents is that the use of 'those three words in that order' is inherently racist, unacceptable and punishable, regardless of context. Interesting.
Holding that opinion strikes me as dangerously naive and probably well into the wilds of lunacy, but I do understand that taking a very hard line against racist remarks (I've avoided publishing what Terry said to Anton Ferdinand because I'm not comfortable with the language). Perhaps, I could be persuaded to follow Ms. Henry of into her strange utopia. But, even acknowledging that she might be correct in that assertion, you can't throw those two paragraphs into a piece that also contains this sentence:
[Ferdinand] was merely the unfortunate soul in relation to whom the words "fucking black cunt" arose on the football pitch.
Fewer than one hundred and fifty words separate those two quotes. If Ms. Henry's argument that context is irrelevant as far as those words are concerned is morally correct, I've just committed what would be a public order offence if I were under UK jurisdiction. And so has she. Ms. Henry, in her own words, is clearly guilty of racial abuse.
It's pretty incredible how far people will go to claim that Terry should have been convicted, isn't it?