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Are Racist Remarks Illegal in Massachusetts?

A Red Sox fan's bigoted comment about a singer's rendition of the national anthem prompts a police investigation.

Wikimedia CommonsWikimedia CommonsOn Tuesday a Red Sox fan who used a racial epithet to disparage the singer who performed the national anthem was expelled from Fenway Park. The next day, he was banished from the stadium for life.

The Red Sox, who are trying to improve the atmosphere at a stadium known for bigoted taunts, are well within their rights to make and enforce rules for audience behavior. Much more questionable was the reaction to the incident from the Boston Police Department, which said "the BPD's Civil Rights Unit is investigating the allegations and will make a determination as to whether further action is warranted."

What sort of action, you might wonder, in response to what potential crime? The Washington Post says the expelled fan was reported by Calvin Hennick, a white man who came to the game with his son and his father-in-law, who is black. According to Hennick, the man who was ejected complained to him that the singer, who is from Kenya, had "niggered up" The Star-Spangled Banner. Hennick informed an usher, who notified stadium security.

It is not hard to understand why Hennick took offense at the comment, but it is hard to understand why the police thought a criminal investigation was appropriate. The BPD's Civil Rights Unit investigates "hate crimes," where the perpetrator selects his victim based on the latter's perceived or actual membership in a protected group, such as a racial minority. But in this case, the obnoxious fan did not target Hennick based on Hennick's race, and in any event there was no underlying crime.

The Massachusetts Civil Rights Act authorizes civil action against "bias-motivated threats, intimidation, and coercion" that interfere with people's civil rights. But Hennick's account does not suggest that the banished fan's actions qualified for that description. Here is how the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office (AGO) defines the key terms:

A "threat" occurs when the perpetrator does or says things with the intent to make another person fearful or apprehensive of injury or harm. "Intimidation" occurs when the perpetrator intentionally puts another person in fear for the purpose of compelling or deterring conduct by that person. "Coercion" occurs when the perpetrator uses force, either physical or moral, to compel another person to do something against his/her will that he/she would not otherwise have done.

None of those things happened in this case. The AGO emphasizes that "hateful and offensive speech or symbols, standing alone, do not necessarily violate the law." That necessarily should give civil libertarians pause, since it suggests that hateful speech could be against the law, which would be a clear violation of the First Amendment. There is a similar problem with a police investigation prompted by a racist remark at a baseball stadium, even if it does not result in any charges. I have asked the BPD to clarify how the incident at Fenway could possibly justify "further action" by the police and will update this post if and when I receive a reply.

[Thanks to Hans Bader for the tip.]

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  • SIV||

    While speaking about the Jones incident on Tuesday, Kennedy urged fans to report any poor behavior that occurs in the stands.

    If You Hear Something Say Something

  • GILMORE™||

    It seems like people in authority really want people to believe that law enforcement can be used at whim to force people to behave the way they would prefer.

  • Brandybuck||

    That's some not projection you got going on there. Would be a shamed if someone came along and damaged it.

  • DJF||

    It would be nice if there was a link to the performance so we could all judge if the song was "niggered up" .

  • ||

    Niggadup... the stah-spangald bannah got niggadup.

  • Rhywun||

    Please let it be a Wahlberg.

  • JayMan||

  • Rhywun||

    there was no underlying crime

    Soon, comrades. Soon.

  • CatoTheChipper||

    The criminal's utterance, coupled with the fact that he was a privileged white male, was evidence of doubleplusungood thoughtcrime.

    Oldthinkers unbellyfeel this seriousness of this crime.

    This has very little to do with foul, profane language, which can be heard somewhere in the stands after every disputed call of an umpire.

    BTW: Oldthinkers may incorrectly think that the first sentence is grammatically incorrect because it uses the old, gender-biased pronoun "he" rather than the inclusive, singular "they". However, we know that the thoughtcriminal is a privileged white male, so the prejudicial "he" is still good Newspeak.

  • ||

    That necessarily should give civil libertarians pause

    As opposed to the economic libertarians falling all over themselves to distort the market and spend money to lock people up to not-prevent non-crimes.

  • SC Wittan||

    Sounds like the Red Sox traded a star principle for several phobias-to-be-named-later.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

  • pan fried wylie||

    I see no possible issues criminalizing pure hatred.

  • esteve7||

    So this is their new moral outrage of the day?

    Statistically if you look at KKK membership in the US..... A Giants game in SF holds about 43,000 people. I remember doing the math, and that worked out to 2 or 3 people in the stadium would be a KKK member just based on the population of the US. To most people that is pretty good. You have far more violent terroristic communists than clansmen.

    So a small handful of people being assholes and yelling something at the game is now the new WORST THING EVER. That needs a law, or something. I mean, and all of us lefty journalists need to pound this drum to blow it out of proportion. I just don't get what the big deal is, why are you defending racists? One is too much in the current year

  • Zeb||

    It really is getting silly. It would be more surprising if there weren't some drunk asshole yelling racist shit at a Red Sox game. It's not a sign of an impending return to Jim Crow laws.

    I really think that the contemporary US is probably the least racist society there has ever been in the world ever. That's not to say there isn't plenty of racism around still. But for heaven's sake, we've gotten to the point where "racist" is one of the worst things you can call someone. It so socially unacceptable that most people go out of their way to avoid a possible appearance of racism.

    But some asshole at a game means that the sky is falling.

  • Philadelphia Collins||

    It keeps the narrative going.

  • SC Wittan||

    But in this case it keeps the counter-narrative going, as the narrative has been unraveling for awhile now.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, the fact that the guy got reported for a bigoted, but really harmless, comment is not exactly a sign that racism is on the rise.

  • MarkLastname||

    Meanwhile, I can hardly take a stroll through my neighborhood after dark without at least a couple drunk strangers calling me cracker. Somehow, someway, I live.

  • CatoTheChipper||

    Southern Poverty Law Center, which has a history of exaggerating, estimates that there are 5000 to 8000 KKK members. Divide 8000 by 300,000,000 and multiply by 43,000, and you get 1.1 Klansman in the ballpark.

    I suppose that if you add in the neo-Nazis and the extreme alt-right, you could get that estimate up to 2 or 3.

  • ||

    I suppose that if you add in the neo-Nazis and the extreme alt-right, you could get that estimate up to 2 or 3.

    This assumes no self-selection between racist skinheads and progressive high-dollar entertainment sports organizations notorious for heralding social integration.

    I would expect hockey to be the skin-head/klansman's sport of choice.

  • Meh.||

    Based on absolutely no scientific evidence, just what I've seen, I believe their sport of choice is NASCAR.

  • ||

    I guess I was thinking in percentage of attendees rather than absolute numbers.

    You're likely right that the majority are NASCAR fans and races probably draw the highest numbers of them but I think, at best, the majority of NASCAR fans are just the plain-old, garden-variety nativist/anglophile/racist.

  • Brandybuck||

    Knowing the reality of San Francisco, there would be more than 2 or 3 KKK members in attendance. There's a major KKK grouping just north of the bridge and another a couple of counties to the east. Plus a bazillion of them in the city itself. There's nothing hate groups like more than moving to where the action is.

  • Zeb||

    I thought the bigoted taunts were part of the historic charm of Fenway. Like the Green Monster or the trough urinals (do they still have those?).

  • Careless||

    So what I learned from this is that you can get anyone banned from Fenway with an unsubstantiated and denied report that they made a racist comment.

  • MarkLastname||

    Yep. Keep that in mind if you ever want someone else's seats.

  • wareagle||

    nothing Orwellian here at all.

  • SC Wittan||

    Your Orwell reference is probably just cover for your Bad Thoughts. Re-educate yourself.

  • Zeb||

    Attempts to regulate speech to stamp out Crimethink is pretty Orwellian.

  • Crusty Juggler aka "Chad"||

    I am all about free speech, but I think the term - and please forgive me in advance, black people -"nigger" is utterly disgusting, and the use of the term should be banned, and that ban should be enforced by the police.

    I can only foresee positive consequences as a result of the ban.

  • Mickey Rat||

    You want more black kids jailed, you monster.

  • Rhywun||

    He didn't say "nigga".

  • MarkLastname||

    Enunciation is the real crime here.

  • Zeb||

    Rhoticity is the real crime.

  • John Rohan||

    Keep in mind that police officers are not lawyers. The BPD didn't want to sound like they didn't care about the issue, so they had to say something. No one is going to be prosecuted.

  • Azathoth!!||

    This is one of the comments from the Post. I think it really lays the whole thing out--

    Since most of you seemingly didn't read beyond the headline let me explain the facts to you. The day after Adam Jones alleged a fan in the center field bleachers used a racial slur to taunt him and the topic of racism is palpable at Fenway Park, a freelance reporter for the Boston Globe who writes primarily on the topic of race relations attends the game with his biracial son and black father in-law. After a Kenyan woman finishes singing the National Anthem, a white man sitting next to him whispers a racial slur into his ear. The man who whispered the slur is kicked out of the game, banned for life from the stadium and under investigation by the Boston. Despite police investigations being a matter of public record, the man who whispered the slur's name has not been reported by anyone.

    con't

  • Azathoth!!||

    If any of this story seems plausible to you then you need your head examined. Never mind how curious it is that the day immediately following a supposed racist incident at Fenway when racism is on everyone's minds it just so happens that a freelance reporter for the entity that is owned by the same owner as the Red Sox is the victim of yet another racial slur - just ask yourself why the man has yet to be identified by a single news outlet when a) Fenway must know his name since they have to enforce a ban on this individual and b) he is under investigation by the Boston police which is a matter of public record.

    And a quick google reveals that the 'random fan' in question is, in fact, a writer of race baiting articles.

    What a coincidence!!

  • Rhywun||

    Oh, of course the whole thing is made up. But it could have happened, and that's the important part.

  • Crusty Juggler aka "Chad"||

    I also hope shouting black is soon criminalized.

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