As Hate Crime Awareness Week draws to a close, I have been reflecting on the impact hate crime has on our communities and how best we can challenge it.
Figures show that 2201 hate crimes were recorded in West Yorkshire in 2015-16, compared to 5,223 for 2016-17. This year looks set to break that grim record again.
Like most people, I am appalled that hate crime has more than doubled in the last five years, though I am not surprised. It is evident in my constituency casework, on my social media feeds and through the conversations I have with the police and other reporting organisations.
There is no singular contributor to hate crime, but there are powerful influences upon it. It is my view that elements of the media play a role in fostering intolerance, and I want to see a change in how things are done.
In a year when the press has turned its attention to the transgender community, it is no coincidence that reports of anti-transgender hate crime have risen by a third. Articles referring to transgender people as “zealots, destroying truth itself” (Mail on Sunday), falsely equating transgender women with drag queens (The Sun) and claiming children are being ‘brainwashed’ (Daily Mail) have been published, and the trans community have suffered as a result.
We cannot lay all the blame on the media, however. Politicians and other leading figures must also take responsibility for their words. When Boris Johnson compared women who wear a veil to “letterboxes”, Islamophobic attacks on Muslim women shot up as a direct result.
What is more concerning is the recent attempt by reactionary politicians and commentators to dismiss these attacks as mere complaints by ‘the snowflakes’ or as ‘political correctness gone mad.’ The evidence increasingly shows an uptick in violent crime that is being legitimised by the rhetoric we are hearing from the media and political figures, not least the American President and Nigel Farage, who recently claimed his despicable ‘breaking point’ poster as a leading catalyst for the Leave campaign’s victory in the 2016 referendum.
I am heartened though to see that there is push back both from organisations such as Hope Not Hate, of which I was once the chair, and also from the Crown Prosecution Service who have demonstrated the seriousness of which they take such crimes by applying sentence uplifts.
As a city, Leeds has also been praised for its work on tackling hate crime. We are home to Stop Hate UK, one of the leading national organisations working to challenge all forms of Hate Crime and discrimination and we also host wonderful events such as the ‘Great Get Together’, in memory of my colleague Jo Cox.
It is often said that hate is a manifestation of fear. And when we are swamped with scare stories from right wing websites and newspapers, designed to manipulate the genuine concerns for jobs and housing into fear of ‘the other’, it is easy to see how hate can take hold.
It is those people that it is possible to win back. As well as challenging and reporting it, we can all play an active role in stopping hate. Whether it is by putting out positive messages on social media or by getting involved in good old-fashioned community activism, it is up to all of us to create a better, more tolerant Britain.
You can report hate crime to the police by calling 101 (non-emergency) or 999 (emergency).
Stop Hate UK also provide confidential and independent Hate Crime reporting services in various areas in the UK including a 24 hour helpline.