In a press conference today, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested that one way to combat anti-Asian hate would be for the New York Police Department to warn people not to be hateful.
"Even if something is not a criminal case, a perpetrator being confronted by the city, whether it's NYPD or another agency, and being told that what they've done was very hurtful to another person and could have ever repeated lead to criminal charges, that's another important piece of the puzzle," said de Blasio. "One of the things officers are trained to do is to give warnings. If someone has done something wrong, but not rising to a criminal level, it's perfectly appropriate for an NYPD officer to talk to them, to say that was not appropriate."
As de Blasio appeared to recognize, merely expressing hateful speech is not a crime. Hate speech is in fact protected by the First Amendment. For something to count as a hate crime, there must be underlying illegal behavior, such as assault or vandalism.
It is thus a very bad idea for the NYPD to go around sternly lecturing people who may have engaged in hateful conduct that is not actually illegal. For one thing, this straightforwardly violates people's civil liberties: Unless you're committing a crime, your actions are no business of the government's.
Beyond that, there's always a risk that routine interactions between cops and citizens will escalate into something life-threatening. Give cops more reasons to knock on people's doors and bother them, and you increase the chances of a bad encounter. This was a central theme of last year's protests against abusive policing. De Blasio's plan for combatting racism hinges on doing the exact opposite of what Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist groups have been urging.
Cops' time is better spent investigating violent crime than warning people not to be haters. Someone should explain to de Blasio that there's not always a great deal of trust between cops and the communities they serve, and that his proposal is likely to worsen the problem.