When is free speech no longer free?

March 18, 2014

By Kathleen R. Merrill

I was a sixth-grader in middle school when I was knocked down and beaten up by a group of Hispanic girls who kept shouting at me about being a white girl.

I remember how shocked I was as I walked home crying, nursing a black eye and worrying about my torn-beyond-repair dress. How could those girls be that way? I didn’t even know them, so I hadn’t done anything to them to warrant such an attack.

Kathleen R. Merrill Press managing editor

Kathleen R. Merrill
Press managing editor

For weeks afterward, I walked home from school many different ways, and got my brother or some friends to walk with me whenever they could.

These days, that incident would probably be considered a hate crime. So, too, according to police, are social media postings by Issaquah High School students that made racial slurs regarding Garfield High School students. I talked with a couple of people who saw the postings, and the content of those messages made me sick to my stomach.

But I am wondering where this classification of hate crime came from and why we even need it. If one man kills another man for his car, but they’re the same race, how isn’t that crime hateful? Seems hateful to me. If a man beats his wife or girlfriend to death? Hateful can’t even begin to describe that or any number of crimes we read or hear about these days.

Let’s just call a bully a bully, no matter the age of the perpetrator.

If you diss someone because of their color, gender, income, weight, height, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or any other such thing that shouldn’t matter to anyone in the year 2014, you’re a bully.

“Hey, the First Amendment gives me the right to say whatever I want about whomever I want or to whomever I want,” some people will say.

Just because you’re free to say something doesn’t mean you should.

When I was a little girl, my mom used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Good words of advice that I recall on some regular basis. More simply put, sometimes it’s better to just close your mouth.

When is free speech no longer free? When it hurts someone. Then, there is a cost being paid by someone.

If you call someone the N-word, you’re hurting someone. Maybe not everyone, but someone.

If you call someone a derogatory name for their sexual orientation, you’re hurting someone.

If you make fun of someone’s religion, you’re hurting someone.

“Well, maybe those people should get a thicker skin. You know, sticks and stones and all that,” some might say.

That still doesn’t make right the things I hear in crowds and see on various social media platforms.

Hate, in any form, should be stomped out.


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