When we asked our councillors and police how they were combatting hate crime, we were met with silence. The authorities need to take the lead in protecting victims.
In the last year, 3,783 people were victims of a hate crime in the Eastlondonlines boroughs. It’s been an issue in our areas for at least five centuries. And in almost every category of hate crime, in every borough, cases are on the rise.
New excuses for mistreatment are constantly found by perpetrators, as during the current Covid-19 crisis; many East Asian students are leaving the country, concerned that the authorities aren’t doing enough to protect them.
Talking to the victims, the suggestion that those in power – in particular the police – are not doing enough to combat hate crime is an issue that has come up time and time again.
When a Rabbi was violently attacked in Hackney by two males, who called him a “dirty Jew” and shouted, “Kill the Jews”, the Police were condemned by the Jewish community for their response.
Rabbi Herschel Gluck told the Guardian: “The police response has certainly not been good enough … we hear a lot of very nice talk about being against hate crime and anti-Semitism but when it comes down to it, we don’t see any appropriate action.”
Rabbi Gluck’s remarks are supported by a report from 2018 by the Police watchdog, who found that the Police had responded poorly to 89 of 180 cases it reviewed.
In three quarters of these cases, it took longer than five days for officers to contact the victims. In one incident, the police questioned a transgender woman on whether or not her experiences constituted a hate crime.
Hate breeds hate, causing retaliatory attacks, as seen in the wake of the most recent murders on London Bridge. Yet, Londoners still cannot get a complete view of the situation in their neighbourhoods, making it harder for them to take steps to protect themselves.
Public dashboards can’t narrow down the sites of crimes to specific locations. Both the Met Police and Mayor of London websites have their own statistics tools, but there is no way for people to see which places within their boroughs are the most unsafe.
It is also increasingly difficult to hold local authorities and institutions to account. Reporting for this series, we contacted numerous council press offices and councils themselves. The only press office to respond, Hackney, simply linked us to previous statements. None of the councillors took the time to reply, despite holding roles connected to community safety.
Tower Hamlets’ Asma Begum, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Equalities, at least forwarded our request to her council’s press office – who we had already contacted and heard nothing from.
But there was no reply from Lewisham’s Brenda Dacres, Cabinet Member for Safer Communities; Hackney’s Sade Etti, “No Place For Hate” Champion; or Croydon’s Hamida Ali, Cabinet Member for Safer Croydon & Communities.
We turned to the Freedom of Information Act to try and find out more. The Act is a piece of legislation which allows members of the public to request information from public bodies. It is designed to allow the public to see information which institutions want to keep hidden.
When a request is submitted, the organisation is legally required to respond within 20 working days. Almost none of our responses came back within this limit. The worst offender was Goldsmiths College, who took 37 days to respond.
Croydon Council replied to our request, but didn’t attach the information to the email. It took them another week to send the information.
We asked the British Transport Police for “the number and location of reported hate crimes, by train station in London”, so that a direct comparison could be made with stations in our boroughs. This information was not provided when they responded.
In the responses we did receive, a troubling pattern emerged.
Apart from Tower Hamlets Council, none of the councils in the ELL Boroughs, or the Metropolitan Police, know how much money they spend tackling hate crime. The councils and police said it would be too difficult to find out this number. How can the effectiveness of public spending be scrutinised if it is not recorded?
The public must do their part too, of course. In March, Sadiq Khan took steps to publicly address the abuse of East Asians during the current coronavirus pandemic, and on Twitter, the most vocal commentators were opponents.
One user wrote: “Really? With all the things going on in London, the police think hate crime around COVID-19 is at the tip of the list.”
Members of the public have a part to play in calling hate out when they see it, but the change must begin with our leadership. Despite their public commitment to tackling hate crime, it is clear that neither the Police nor Councils are currently capable of showing that they are taking action.
This is day two of our Eastlondonlines’ #HatefulLondon series. Read the rest of the story here.