Roughly once a week, I am paralyzed by an all-encompassing wish to move to the U.S. Friends, colleagues, and other assorted Britons often react with repulsion when I detail this desire. “How could you!” — they cry — while listing off readymade soundbites on the epidemic of gun violence, the “latest coup attempt,” and the battalions of mobilized Boomers ready to blow themselves up over conspiracy theories they read on Facebook.
But I reassure them that all of these issues pale in comparison to the vast consumer surplus available over the Atlantic, the fact that everything I say over there is treated with additional respect simply due to my sounding like a low-rent Hugh Grant . . . and because I can’t be dragged to the courts for sharing a meme.
That last point is especially poignant this week, with a police sergeant from the Devon and Cornwall force in southwest England being charged with sharing a “grossly offensive” meme of George Floyd on May 30, five days after his death.
The policeman was suspended from duty and charged under Section 127 of the Communications Act (2003, which makes it an offense to send a message that “is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.”)
Floyd was one of the most influential figures in British politics in 2020. Some 250,000 people took to the streets to protest racism — during a pandemic, no less — following his death. Millions tune in every week to watch our soccer players kneel for a moment’s silence before the start of each fixture. Fans at Millwall, in South London, were slaughtered throughout the media when they booed kneeling at their ground. This was a legitimate political protest, but it prompted an investigation from the Football Association and total condemnation from the breadth of British society.
And now our modern obscenity laws will be used to ruin a man’s life over a meme.
Catrin Evans, of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, said: “It will be of considerable public concern that such an image was apparently shared among colleagues by a serving police officer.”
What is more concerning to me and many other members of the public is the existence of a law that can punish you for thinking and speaking according to conscience, no matter how crass, rude, or “grossly offensive” that may be.
There is a growing political orthodoxy on either edge of the Atlantic. But at least you will be spared the might of the justice system if you wish to challenge it or just make rude jokes about it on the Western side.