“It’s a sign of the times,” Tariq* said to his daughter, trying to explain to the 12-year-old why her school mates won’t sit next to her on the bus when she’s wearing a headscarf.
Incidents like this are the backdrop to the fact that Bristol is now recording one of the highest levels of hate crime in UK cities. Police statistics for January 2016 to the end of June 2016, recorded 569 hate crimes motivated by race or religion in the Bristol area. Many incidents go unreported however, making it hard to get an accurate picture. And behind these statistics are faces and stories on the sharp end of this friction.
“It’s getting worse and worse in the media.”
In 2014, Hasina Khan was verbally attacked and spat on in Cabot Circus. Hasina feels very fortunate that a conviction was achieved, but also that it was an exception to the norm. She believes the outcome was due to her “going public about it, and if they hadn’t handled it well there would have been a backlash”. This lack of confidence in the police remains a big factor in the under-reporting of incidents, despite efforts to tackle the problem. Hasina feels there is “no protection, they [perpetrators] can more or less say what they want.” Police statistics do little to calm these fears: 2014/2015 recorded a total of 1,842 reports for all hate crime categories, with 452 resulting in the perpetrator being charged.
Hasina hasn’t experienced anything so serious since, but she worries that so called ‘soft’ hate crime is increasingly normal. “I’ve experienced it all my life really, but in recent years, being Muslim, it’s more around. If there’s a war or any heightened coverage in the media, you get an increase in comments. It’s getting worse and worse in the media.”
It’s well documented that events like Brexit have led to a spike in hate crime: in July 2016 Bristol saw 224 more reported incidents of hate crime compared to July 2015. As racist politics firmly cements itself in the mainstream, some appear to be interpreting the moment as a green light to act on the political scapegoating.
Like pretty much everything, drinking doesn’t help: almost 50% of violent attacks happen when the perpetrator is under the influence of alcohol. On the receiving end is the disproportionate level of hate crime suffered by taxi drivers.
Dilawer Singh, Sikh activist by day and taxi driver by night, was attacked by a group in their 20s he was dropping off in Clifton around 4am one morning in 2012. Despite leaving him with a broken shoulder, smashed glasses and phone, in this case, the perpetrators were never prosecuted. Along with galvanising his commitment to community activism, after several months off work he made sure his taxi was fitted out with extensive security equipment. An effective deterrent, many drivers have since followed his lead. “Big brother mate,” one man said to the other when he noticed the camera, and their torrent of racial abuse stopped as quickly as it began.
Those pushing back against this trend are also on the receiving end. Working in the city centre on a ‘Stand up to Racism’ stall, Prarthana Krishnan, law student at Bristol University, recently received verbal abuse from an elderly white woman. Prarthana was “genuinely saddened and infuriated at the same time” by people’s reaction to the stall. Prarthana feels “it’s a growing problem” with racism stalking the halls of education too, with Bristol University recently highlighted after attacks on black students.
An irreversible trend?
While the city centre sees the highest levels of recorded hate crime, hate crime ‘hot spots’ in Bristol have moved around the city, following changing demographics. Horfield used to see the highest levels of reported incidents, but hate crime levels have since dropped. Alex Raikes, director of Stand Against Racism and Inequality (SARI) identified south Bristol as current hot spots – with Filwood and Hartcliffe being top of the list. Both areas are marked with severe deprivation and, with a fresh round of austerity recently announced, many factors indicate that the trend is not likely to be reversed soon.
Lily Khandker of Bristol’s Multi Faith Forum is hopeful though, believing that Bristol stands together as a community more than in other cities, citing displays of solidarity such as when the Totterdown Jamia Mosque was attacked. There are also more support services than other places in the UK, such as SARI, which has been working in the community since 1991 to tackle hate crime. This factor can help account for Bristol’s high number of recorded incidents. For Alex Raikes and SARI, encouraging people to report hate crime is vital to addressing the issue. SARI is working closely with schools who have seen a rise in hate crime with victims and perpetrators as young a 3 and 6 respectively.
As with general abuse, social media is a key area for racist trolls to do their bidding. But, social media can play a dual role with hate crime; While it offers an anonymous space for hate fuelled rants, it also allows for effective communication and community action. This is ever more important when organised racism creeps on to the streets, such as the planned far-right demonstration this Saturday.
But along with opposing and standing up to the rise of hate crime, a positive vision must also be offered. Dilawer, Hasina, and Prarthana all believe that it is that only through education, promoting mixing between different cultures, and simply having a conversation with someone ‘different,’ that the current trends can be reversed.
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