Anjali Mukhi discusses the BAME and local government network's recent event on local authorities and hate crime.
In the week following the Christchurch terrorist attack, the UK saw a 600% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes. However, the true extent could well be higher, as worryingly not everyone reports hate crime. New Zealand itself does not comprehensively record hate crime incidents. To address this topical issue, the Young Fabians BAME Advocacy Group and the Devolution and Local Government Network invited three local government experts to discuss how local authorities could tackle the rise in hate crime.
James Beckles, the Newham Council cabinet member for Crime and Security, opened up the evening by highlighting that an increase in reported hate crime incidents could potentially be down to greater awareness. However, the question we need to ask ourselves is how to get people to report even more. In the wake of Christchurch, the council has been looking at ways to reassure their Muslim residents concerned about hate crime. In fact, Newham have made supporting potential victims of hate crime a priority with the introduction of a community engagement officer. James highlighted that as hate crime affects such a large group of people, education and giving people the tools to report is key. He added that social media amplifies grievances, and yet the Home Office has only now realised they have to look at the far right.
Vicky te Velde, the Waltham Forest Council junior cabinet member for Community Engagement, Equalities and Community Cohesion, agreed that hate crime is on the rise, highlighting both the New Zealand attack and antisemitism in the Labour Party as examples. Sadly, there has been a 76% increase in Waltham Forest since 2011, and, in keeping with the national picture, the increase in Islamophobia has been disproportionately high. They recently launched the Connecting Communities programme funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which aims to curtail violence at source, treat victims and strengthen community resilience. Their hate crime ambassadors are proactive on social media and in the community. One innovative idea of theirs is to employ young ex-offenders to go into schools, pupil referral units and young offender institutions. As part of their plan to empower residents to get more involved in the community, they are even looking into a citizens’ assembly on hate crime.
Unmesh Desai, the deputy chair of the London Assembly Police Crime Committee, rounded up the panel, by highlighting that disability and gender based hate crime sadly do not get the same recognition as other types of incidents. He praised New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her clear political leadership - which has been a stark contrast to our own - and highlighted both Stella Creasy’s work with the Law Commission and Sadiq Khan’s online hate crime hub. Like James, he noted that the police are now warning that the biggest threat is far-right extremism. Of course, it is impossible to go to a Young Fabian event and not have Brexit come up - Unmesh highlighted how Brexit could have implications for security, with the police actually planning for civil unrest. What could central Government do about hate crime? Well, even when the Government appears to be trying to fix the problem by increasing funding for religious institutions and training, the pittance of funding could end up pitting one religious group against the other. Instead what is needed is a risk assessment of the threat to religious institutions at a borough level.
In terms of calls to action, Unmesh highlighted the importance of fighting the government’s ‘hostile environment’ and the role trade unions could play in educating people. A new idea he had was to call on West Ham to disassociate from the Democratic Football Lads Alliance. During the Q&A, the panellists agreed that it was vital to bring people together, with James praising the National Citizen Service, and Vicky calling for volunteers to work with isolated groups. Notably, Unmesh also predicted that far-right provocateur Tommy Robinson could win a seat at the local elections if he tried, which makes the need to tackle hate crime at the source all the more urgent.
Anjali Mukhi is Secretary of the Young Fabians BAME Advocacy Group. Follow her on Twitter at @Anjie591
To find out more about our upcoming events, check out the BAME Advocacy Group and the Devolution and Local Government Network pages, and sign up to both their mailing lists. Follow them on Twitter at @YoungFabianBAME and @YFDevoLocalGov