Lying Media Bastards

July 9, 2006

The High Cost of Free Speech (UK Style)

Friday, June 30, 2006

Londonist blogger Jo Tacon and her friend Phil are taking the subway to a concert. When they pass through the metal detectors inside the subway station, Phil remarks that the detector is a “piece of shit that wouldn’t stop anyone”. And then:

all of a sudden, half a dozen policemen jumped on him and hustled him over to the corner of the tube station, where he was detained for about 20 minutes for the grave crime of swearing in public, and fined £80 (almost $150) for the privilege. For swearing! On the tube! If it’s such a crime, then I owe them about a million pounds, as swearing on and at the tube is the only way to deal with the pain of having to travel on the dratted thing every day.

The police were fucking rude, too, and treated Phil like he was a hardened criminal - they were really aggressive, and clearly wanted him to lose his temper so they could charge him with something worse. They said repeatedly he was very close to being arrested. For the terrible crime of swearing and calling their machine a piece of shit - which, as a physics graduate, he actually knows about. Phil co-operated fully and gave them every piece of ID you could think of, and allowed them to search his bag, but that wasn’t enough for them - they just had to keep on firing questions. I got really upset and started crying through rage, frustration and fear. I also asked them very politely if this was the UK or the People’s Republic of China. They then told me I was very close to being arrested, too.

Apparently, the police decided that this offense falls under Britain’s new “anti-social behaviour laws”. These laws sound like a hearty combo of bullshit and “let’s make the middle class feel more comfortable”. Examples of “anti-social behaviour” include “nuisance behavior”, littering, and panhandling. But even with that, it would seem that our Mr. Phil didn’t break the law. Looking at the statute, it would seem that while Phil did use an obscenity, he did not “persistently shout them at passers-by”, and that one comment to a friend would hardly count as “pestering people waiting to catch public transport.” It is possible that by pointing out how utterly useless the subway’s security was that he “used threatening words or behaviour likely to cause alarm, harassment or distress”, but that’s really more the fault of incompetent government than of Phil. Saying “it’s so hot that someone pass out” could be a distressing statement, but you shouldn’t get in trouble for making it.

Also, gotta love the “you’re very close to being arrested” stuff. But really, that’s always a given when standing in the general vicinity of a cop.

In conclusion, metal detectors rock! They are the best thing ever!

Posted by Jake on July 9, 2006 8:04 am

3 Comments »

  1. Let’s see if this works in the airports of America…put the Patriot Act and the Freedom of Speech to the test…see if that automated voice that comes over the speakers in airports means what it says when it says that jokes about security will be taken seriously…although, interpreting swearing as a threat would shut down every cab in New York City and ground a lot of planes, cause if you heard the mouths on some of these flight attendants…wow

    Comment by Indira — July 9, 2006 @ 10:18 am

  2. I not convinced that civil disobedience is ever effective, but I smile when I imagine that “these metal detectors are shit” become a cry that every commuter would sing as they walked through them. The police are going to jump and harrass everyone coming through? Pretty quickly the lawmakers and enforces would soon realise the folly of the law.

    Comment by Nic — July 11, 2006 @ 2:33 pm

  3. Well the British police are now able to shoot-down pasengers at will,
    so it seems you and your friend were lucky to survive this incident.
    Yes the police are confrontational, it has something to do with their I.Q. quota!

    Comment by robert — July 30, 2006 @ 12:21 am

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