“We cannot let Britain become a place where a Hijab or a Kippah marks someone out as a target.” This quote from Marie Van der Zyl, President of Board of deputies of British Jews, echoes in the current climate of rising discrimination and hate crime in the UK. This is even more relevant when we know that religiously motivated hate crime rose by 40% in a year across England and Wales, and that statistics released by the Home Office showed that more than half of these religiously-motivated attacks (in 2017-18) were directed at Muslims, the next most targeted group being the Jews.
A hate crime is defined as a prejudice-motivated crime, which occurs when the perpetrator targets their victim because of their membership to a certain social group (which can be real or perceived). It can include: race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. It is called a crime as it can involve physical assault, criminal damage, offences under the Public Order Act 1986 and under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
20 years after the McPherson report which uncovered high levels of institutional racism within the police and provided the government with many recommendations to tackle Hate Crime, why is the number of people attacked on account of their racial, religious or gender background still increasing? Why does this violence keep growing?
In April 1993, the horrific murder of Stephen Lawrence, a young Black British man who was just waiting for the bus, shocked and moved the British population. Its impact became even stronger after the Met Police showed itself unable (or unwilling) to arrest the perpetrators and put them behind bars. After 6 years during which Lawrence’s parents and others fought for justice, the McPherson report is released after Jack Straw, who was Home Secretary at the time, requested this. The report examined how the Metropolitan Police dealt with Lawrence’s murder and concluded that the investigation had been incompetent and that the force was institutionally racist.
It therefore made several recommendations (or rather, exactly 70 key recommendations) that could help change and make society show “zero tolerance” to racism. These recommendations aimed to improve the accountability of the police, but were also targeted at other public bodies, such as the judicial system, the civil service, local government, NHS and schools.
Many other laws exist in the UK to counter hate crime: the Public Order Act 1986 prohibits expressions of racial hatred. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 makes hateful behaviour based on the victim’s membership (presumed or not) in a racial or religious group an aggravation in sentencing, meaning that perpetrators of Hate Crimes face stiffer sentences that a perpetrator who would have committed the same crime without having been recognised as doing it on account of the victim’s membership to any racial or social group.
Moreover, the Criminal Justice Act 2003 requires a court to consider whether a crime which is not specified by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is racially or religiously aggravated. Finally, in August 2017, the Crown Prosecution Service stated that hate crimes committed online should be treated as seriously as offences in person. It thus seems that laws are in place to fight Hate Crime and prevent perpetrators getting away with their offences.
However, even after these laws’ promulgation, people are still suffering from violence because of their gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Omar Khan, Director of Runnymede Trust, stated: “you could actually say there’s been almost no progress since that time.”
Recent figures showed that the racial gap in the use of “stop-and-search” by the police has grown, despite the recommendations made in the report and the government’s urge to end it. Last year, Black people were 8.7 times more likely to undergo police searches (related to drug offences) than white people. They were also 7.9 times more likely to be stopped and searched for other offences.
Moreover, BME workers still get paid 8.3 percent less than their white counterparts. 37 percent of these BME workers have been bullied, abused or single out at work and 57 percent of BME women affected by it have suffered mental health issues.
As said before, figures of religiously-motivated hate crimes have considerably increased, and it even causes some Jews to consider leaving the UK because of the rising anti-Semitism rooted in society (article: https://edition.cnn.com/2018/08/17/uk/uk-anti-semitism-intl/index.html ).
Hate crimes are rising, and this despite the “justice gap” that allows some of them to “drop out” of the criminal justice system. This gap was revealed by analysis of the Crime Survey for England and Wales, showing that not all hate crimes are reported. Then, out of the ones that are, only approximately half of them are recorded. Then the figures of completed prosecutions, convictions and cases with uplifts keep decreasing.
So why does it seem like the violence keeps growing? Some assume it is because of the improvement of how the police now record these crimes, or perhaps because victims are not so afraid to talk anymore. But instead of being glad that the police and general communication around these issues have improved, we should wonder why such acts of violence keep happening, and how to make it stop.
To me, it does not really matter if the reasons behind this rise in Hate Crime figures lies in the improvement of the Police’s work or if it is an aftermath of Brexit. The fact is that Hate Crime still happens, when it definitely should not. Someone skeptical once confronted me and asked me “why on earth” two similar crimes could be sentenced differently “just because” of this “hate factor” (evoking the aggravation in sentencing if the hateful behavior is linked to the victim’s personal characteristic).
I do understand this person’s point of view, but to me, Hate Crimes are in a way more damaging as they target someone’s identity, but not only that: they target a whole community and have been proven to have a negative impact on these communities. It is not just about being violent to someone, it is about being violent to this individual because of his belonging to a (perceived) group of people, and becomes therefore violence against this whole group. We cannot say that Hate Crimes are worse than other “regular” crimes; but it is about time we learn that we cannot target people because of who they are. It is time to end the eternal “us versus them” conflict, and transform it in “us with you”, in order to eventually form a single and universal “us”.