Hate Crime speech by Michael Wardlow
Hate Crime: speech by Chief Commissioner Michael Wardlow to NIC-ICTU (Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions) - ‘Hate Crime and Me’ seminar
Hate crime involves any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a personal characteristic.
It is nothing new. Ancient Chinese texts recorded that General Ran Min ordered the extermination of all people with racial characteristics of high-bridged nose and bushy beards during the fourth century AD and 200,000 were reportedly massacred. In the 13th century Jews were removed from many countries across Europe on the basis that they murdered Jesus Christ. In the last century, Nazi’s tried to wipe out entire groups of people based on their identities – Jews, Communists, gay people, those with mental impairments. Closer to our own time, we have only to think of Pol Pot’s killing fields, Rwanda and former Yugoslavia to remind ourselves of the depravity which can be demonstrated and sadly “justified” just because one group hates another group.
I had the privilege of working in Uganda in the era following the removal of Idi Amin and experienced the consequences of hate first hand. Amin was responsible for overseeing the deaths of over 1 million Ugandans. During my period there, I recall discovering the bodies of over 100 villagers, old and young, who had been killed by another local group simply because they were a different tribe. A few years later, in former Eastern Europe, for 4 years I worked alongside a group of old men, many of whom had been imprisoned by the Communist party and subjected to hard labour and torture simply because they were different. Intolerance, hatred of that difference was the sole reason they lost their families their jobs and their dignity.
Amongst the long list of things on which I am sure we can agree today, one is clear - hate crime is unacceptable. It is an attack on a person’s humanity, their identity as a human being, and so we must challenge hate crime. Hate crime takes many forms. Incidents may involve physical assault, destruction of property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse, or insults, or offensive graffiti or letters (Hate mail) and increasingly cyber assaults. In a recent life and times survey, 42% of pupils stated that they had witnessed racial harassment while at school. Hate motivated incidents are significant in number in N Ireland, with the majority still linked to sectarianism where 4 people every day reported such an incident during 2011/12. Incidents relating to race occur at a rate of 2 a day with homophobic incidents numbering 4 a week.
Hate crime doesn’t only affect the victim, it causes fear amongst the community from which they come from and as a result, it diminishes us. At a wider level, it damages the quality of life here in Northern Ireland, it erodes our international reputation and causes untold damage to our economy. Of course it needs a robust response from the policing and justice system, but it doesn’t, and can’t stop there. It needs a response from all of society – from all of us. We cannot enjoy the luxury of the bystander. As we have been reminded evil happens when good people do nothing.
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me
- Rev Martin Niemoller
Dealing with hate crime itself is a police and criminal justice matter, and that’s where it should sit. However, trying to understand why it happens, to inform and support society’s efforts to bear down on hate crime – that’s everyone’s business, including the Commission’s.
One of our many roles is to inform policy and law-makers about what people think about discrimination, their experiences of discrimination and their awareness of what they can do about it. This summer, we published our latest piece of research, the equality awareness survey ‘Do You Mean Me?’ and that’s what I want to focus on today.
We gave it this title because we wanted to stimulate people to think not just ‘have I experienced discrimination because of who I am?’ but also, do I have negative attitudes towards others just because of who they are? When the answer to the second question is ‘yes’, then we need to address what makes us think like this and challenge our own beliefs and stereotypes.
And people’s responses to the survey raise as many questions as answers. There is much to concern us – one third of people said that they had ‘experienced some form of harassment or been treated unfairly’ because they belonged to a particular group. This is double the finding from our 2008 survey.
All the indicators suggest that it is people from black and minority ethnic and LGB groups, and those with lower household incomes who experience the most unfair treatment.
Yet it is equally clear that vulnerable groups are the least likely to complain. The survey highlights that 30% of the respondents feel that some forms of prejudice are acceptable and equivalent surveys in other parts of the UK show similar results. This is a fascinating finding and we are interested in drilling down into what this finding means. It could mean that we are more comfortable with expressing prejudice because we are more aware of diversity in our society and more comfortable with expressing our views as new legislation comes into operation. Race legislation, for example, has only been around since 1997, Section 75 duties are only 12 years old and hate crime has only been on the statute books for 8 years.
It could also mean that we feel more defensive and are therefore potentially threatened by particular groups.
However, there is also much to be positive about. While some attitudes have hardened, particularly in relation to those most marginalized and vulnerable – Travellers, those with mental ill-health, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people – we should also recognize that many people, and in most cases, the majority, did not express any negative attitudes towards these groups.
We can also see the overwhelming support for equality law here with 9 people out of 10 supporting it. There are high levels of confidence in the work of the Commission, with 3 in 4 people, from across all sections of the community agreeing that the commission is doing a good job.
I want to be clear that an expression of prejudice does not necessarily mean it will be lead to unlawful discriminatory behaviour. The Commission has a unique role in this area as we have a legislative remit that gives us a particular responsibility where negative attitudes turn into discriminatory behaviour.
We help around 3,000 people each year with advice to help them resolve issues where they are concerned discrimination has taken place. We assist a number of cases each year, where a legal remedy must be found to an individual’s problem. Our latest annual review of decisions and settlements will be available next month, and I hope you will find the contents useful. We are in the process of making our case histories more user friendly, with the development of a searchable database. We want this to be a useful resource not only for advisors, but also for those who feel they have been discriminated against.
Trade unions play a pivotal role in advising and assisting their members who believe they have been discriminated against. We are proud of the positive relationship we have built up with unions over the years. For example, we have been delivering the PETAL programme in partnership with NIC-ICTU for several years. This popular course consists of a series of seminars for trade union representatives which aim to promote equality law compliance and best practice in the workplace. We remain keen to receive casework referrals and make sure to recognize the trade union input in any subsequent publicity around the outcome.
As part of our settlement terms, we follow up with around 94% of employers or service providers to ensure that the appropriate policies and practices are in place to prevent a similar issue arising – both for the sake of the staff or customers but also to improve and assist the business.
We provide confidential and free advice to all employers in Northern Ireland, to all policy-makers and to service providers in both public and private sectors, with two-thirds of these saying they had changed their policies or practices as a direct result of the contact.
Our work is around changing behaviours, so that unlawful discrimination is avoided. We work on our own and with representative groups to promote rights and responsibilities towards those protected by the law. Changing attitudes will take work from everyone – the Executive, government departments, employers, service providers, representative groups, the media and ourselves as individuals.
Examples of our partnership working abound: we are part of the Trans Forum, which involves police, statutory bodies, individuals, community and voluntary groups. We are working together to promote and publicise Trans Memorial Day next week. This Day commemorates those who have died as a result of transphobic incidents. This is an area in which we need to show vigilance here in N Ireland. Our survey showed that 1 person in 3 % would mind having a transgendered person as a work colleague, 2 in 5 would mind having them as a neighbour and over half would mind having them as an in-law. It’s an area that has direct links into hate crime, as does our work with the Pride movement in Belfast, Newry and Foyle.
In the past, we have been committed partners in the Unite Against Hate campaign, which is currently under review. A particular issue highlighted and tackled by that campaign was under-reporting, not only of hate crime but also of discrimination. We understand the strength and courage it takes to pursue a complaint. As a result, we have taken steps to make it easier to report discrimination to us, including through a button on the Unite Against Hate website.
The ‘Do You Mean Me?’ survey and the work arising out of it is all part of the ‘bread and butter’ of what we do. It poses questions for us all as to how we deal with prejudice, which if let loose can turn into discriminatory behaviour, and even hate crime. The findings are for everyone – a resource to be drawn upon to shape programmes of work, including the Programme for Government, and Race, Sexual Orientation and Disability strategies.
I want to stress, in carrying out our responsibilities we are not trying to deny difference or stifle healthy discussion on the nature of our shared society. As a mature society we need to be able to name prejudice and discrimination when we find it, without the fear of intimidation or reprisal. Together we need to help raise awareness of the protections available to victims of prejudicial attitudes and behaviours and help them report those incidents as appropriate. Everyone here today rejects the prejudice and hostility that can lead to discrimination, harassment and physical attacks. Combating negative attitudes requires a collective response – and the responsibility is on all of us to act within our own spheres of influence.
We are clear about our responsibility to deliver for everyone in Northern Ireland. We are tasked with working for a fairer Northern Ireland and that will be the greatest achievement for all of us.