Hate crime is surging in our boroughs. In Lewisham, homophobic hate crime has increased by 100 per cent, whilst anti-Semitic hate crime has quadrupled in Hackney
Lucy Sheen’s experience on an East London bus has become, sadly, all too familiar. The coronavirus has led to a heightened sense of anxiety, which a few are mobilising for racist expression. A British-Chinese woman, Sheen was on her way to rehearsals – she is a filmmaker – when a white male whispered into her ear: “Why don’t you **** off back to China and take your filth with you.” Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Sheen said she was “taken back”, but admitted this incident was not rare; “only today I read of a [similar] incident on public transport where another East Asian female was taunted and called ‘coronavirus’”.
This occurrence is certainly not new in East London – anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and racism are deeply entrenched, and have been for generations. In fact, in an era of populist politics, the situation is worsening – Omar Khan, the chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, a race equality think-tank, said that the discourse surrounding Brexit was “normalising hate and increasing division.”
Over the last two years, across Eastlondonlines boroughs, racist and religious hate crime has risen by 40 per cent, according to data released by the Metropolitan Police. These figures consider race, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and faith hate crime offences.
Across Eastlondonlines boroughs, Hackney had the worst record in 2019, as anti-Semitic offences quadrupled.
Rabbi Herschel Gluck OBE, the president of the Stamford Hill Shomrim, a volunteer-led community watch group, has repeatedly spoken about the prevalence of anti-Semitism in Hackney. In an interview with Eastlondonlines, Gluck said: “I think that sadly a lot of people are under the impression that political correctness is going out of the window. So therefore, that gives them the license to hate, the license to discriminate, the license to be anti-Semitic. We need to be very vigilant to counteract that narrative.”
Following an attack on a senior Rabbi in Stamford Hill last December, Hackney’s Mayor Philip Glanville, and councillor Caroline Selman issued a joint statement, that said: “It is clear that more needs to be done [to tackle hate crime]. It is shameful that in this day and age, people continue to be discriminated against for the colour of their skin, the faith that they follow, who they love, and more.”
Unprovoked attacks are common in Hackney, particularly in areas with a significant Jewish populous. Stamford Hill, towards the north of Hackney, has the largest concentration of Charedi Hasidic Jews in Europe, and the community has been historically plagued by anti-Semitic abuse. A similar observation can be applied to Barnet; roughly one in five of all Jews in England and Wales live in the borough.
Incidents of Islamophobia have increased throughout Eastlondonlines boroughs since 2017. Tower Hamlets is consistently ranked as one of London’s worst boroughs, where an estimated 34.5 per cent of the borough’s population is Muslim, the highest proportion in the country by local authority area.
Last January, a man followed Muslim schoolgirls in Bow, Tower Hamlets, down the street before launching a tirade of abhorrent abuse which he captured and posted on social media. Responding to the video, Tell Mama, a national charity measuring anti-Muslim incidents in the UK, called the video “very disturbing”, whilst Mayor John Biggs and Begum released a joint statement saying: “We will always challenge negativity like this and stand up for all our community”.
In her maiden speech to the House of Commons, Apsana Begum, Member of Parliament for Poplar and Limehouse, said: “As someone who has first-hand experience of the rise of Islamophobia over the past decades, it is alarming that racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in particular are growing”.
On 12 March, Tell Mama released a detailed report on the impact of the Christchurch terror attack, a year after 51 people were murdered by a far-right extremist. The investigation revealed a 692 per cent increase in Islamophobia nationwide, prompting communities secretary Robert Jenrick to say: “I am appalled that reported incidents of hatred aimed at Muslims in Britain have increased”.
But, such spikes are nothing new – current affairs repeatedly exacerbate anti-Muslim hate. In July 2017, shortly after the Manchester Arena bombing and London Bridge attack, the number of Islamophobic offences rose by 166 per cent from the previous month, whilst Islamophobia similarly rose during the EU Referendum campaign.
Across London in 2019, homophobic hate crime increased by 36 per cent. In Eastlondonlines boroughs, the biggest increase was observed in Lewisham, at 100 per cent.
Such trends are generally ascribed to more accurate and thorough reporting – charities such as Stonewall encourage victims to speak out – although some activists have suggested that these latest trends are a direct result of right-wing populism.
Taz Edwards-White from Metro, an equalities and diversity organisation, told the Guardian last July: “There is a tension, and even within our own LGBT community there is a tension. I believe it’s a direct result of people feeling unsafe due to the rise of the right-wing political movement.”
“What we see in our services is lots of people experience day-to-day verbal attacks or violence and aggressive language and homophobic attitudes…we do believe the political climate has had an impact: people feel unsafe”.
Edwards-White’s comments followed an attack on a same-sex couple on a London night bus. Melania Geymonat and her girlfriend Chris were asked by a group of men to kiss for their entertainment – when they refused, the pair were attacked. Melania uploaded a picture of their blooded faces on social media, sparking widespread outrage.
Lewisham, which has seen an alarming rise in homophobic hate crime, has almost two and half times the national average of LGBT+ residents.
Blackheath Common, which straddles Lewisham and Greenwich, has become notorious as an area for homophobic assaults; last September, four men attacked and robbed a man in his 20s, whilst launching homophobic abuse. Prior to this incident, a 36-year old man was beaten and strangled by five males, in the same area.
What can be done?
Our communities have a history of fighting back against hate. Please return to our series, to learn more.
This is day one of our Eastlondonlines’ #HatefulLondon series. Read the rest of the story here.