I doubt that the content of my blog will go down well, but I don’t care. No longer can I watch as NI carries on regardless. Serious issues are ignored as it doesn’t suit the peacetime image that the country wants to project. Yet by not addressing and acting on issues, we risk the mental and physical health of others and we risk creating more victims. This time not of sectarian hate but of race hate. The last few months have seen hundreds of good people marching in support of accepting refugees, brandishing banners and proclaiming refugees are welcome here. Yet did anyone ever stop to think if refugees would really be welcome here? Did anyone stop to wonder how their lives will be, what they will experience in a year, two years or more when they are ‘settled’?
Last week we all watched the aftermath of yet another race hate attack, this time in East Belfast. The victim was asked how he felt. I didn’t need to hear his answer because I already knew. I felt the same, all the freshly prescribed diazepam in the world couldn’t stem the shaking or feelings of inadequacy that one is assailed with after being belittled and abused for something they cannot change. So many new arrivals here are left shaken, vulnerable and isolated due to attacks based on little more than the colour of their skin. In today’s world many cannot go back home as they are often told. And yet NI is taking more. May I suggest that a country once deemed the race hate capital of Europe would not be the ideal to choice to settle already traumatised people. Alongside my own experience, recent months also saw a well known Belfast writer attacked in his own home and friends of mine called names on the street. The common denominator? Nothing more than the colour of their skin.
Incidents like this only confirm that we cannot even accept those of colour who were born and bred here. If we cannot accept ‘our own’ then how on earth can anyone argue that we are advanced enough to accept newcomers? Part of me wants to leave and certainly as the sensible option I have considered this, but it in my current predicament it is hard. It isn’t easy to accept that the country of my birth doesn’t want me, the same country that stripped me of a father and made me a carer. As a carer I cannot easily get up and leave but until now that was okay as race hate is taken very seriously, or so I thought.
In the last two years I urged anyone who suffered from a hate crime to report it, after all if these incidents aren’t reported they go unchallenged and stand a high likelihood of happening again. As the PSNI website proudly boasts “Hate Crime is wrong. To Stop it report it”. Race hate crime in particular is taken very seriously in NI, one only has to look to our politicians for affirmation of this. On an all too regular basis they are seen pledging to do more against race hate attacks, present at racial equality forum / talks and I imagine the opening of every anti racism envelope that exists. Yet is there any substance in their convictions? Well, the racial equality strategy would normally suggest so (if we ignore the delay in producing it). But it won’t be worth the paper it’s written on if our support agencies continue to let victims down or our government doesn’t fulfill the funding it promised. The very fact that OFMDFM funding for supporting ethnic minority groups has become so uncertain make it seem that their commitment is pretty fragile. Race hate crime can’t be prevented when the very funds allocated for support agencies are so unstable. All of the public appearances and photo opportunities in the world are not going to stop or prevent more racism here, however supporting funding just might.
Last year it was revealed that only 12 out of 14,000* reports of race related incidents in NI resulted in prosecution. For me this was a curious paradox as it is publicly known that victims are encouraged to report such cases. Then why on earth was the prosecution rate so low? If 14,000 people had the courage to report race hate crime then surely even allowing for unproven cases we would see more prosecutions.
Could something in the processing of these cases be going wrong? A few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to find out. In essence my experience enabled me to test the system. I became a statistic.
So what really happens when you report a race hate crime in Northern Ireland? As we all are painfully aware the PSNI are stretched resource wise. Yet I could never fault the officers that received and initially dealt with my case. They were professional, sympathetic and courteous. For me it was after the first stages of reporting the incident that things begin to unravel. It began with the promise of a follow-up call the next day. After waiting 2 days I took the plunge and called myself. It emerged that my case had been given to the PSNI Central processing Unit (CPU) for allocation. It seems it languished there. At the same time one of the suspects had committed to report into the station on a specified day. Did this happen? Who knows? Certainly not the CPU. As the case was yet to be allocated no one knew anything about it or if the person had even come to the station as arranged. I received my follow -up call a few days later. I am still waiting for the outcome. My next call from the PSNI was from a community officer who began the call sympathising with me about what had happened then later admitted knowing nothing of the incident. I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence.
My basic powers of deduction make me wonder if my experience in reporting a race hate incident is an isolated occurrence? Had my case had not languished for so long would things be different? I will never know, but one thing I am sure of is, that as the days since the incident occurred grew longer so too did the chances of the suspects creating a new order of events. My case is only one ( of which I am not at liberty to go into the details ), but am I wrong to believe that delays such as this must prevent prosecution?
On the night of the incident I was encouraged to seek prosecution, but as the time passed prosecution has now morphed into a glorified apology. Right now it seems I will be lucky to get even that. I can’t help think that if the CPU had been taken out of the equation and the very capable receiving officers had dealt with the case my outcome would have been different. How many more cases slip through the net because of being passed from pillar to post? I shudder to think. No wonder we have so few prosecutions for race hate crime.Suffice to say after reporting the incidence I was afraid, so much so, that I regretted reporting it at all.
My conclusion really is rather bleak.
Could I say hand on heart to a refugee, asylum seeker or migrant that they would be safe here? No.
Would I advise them to come here? No.
Would I encourage someone to report race hate? Perhaps.
However, I would ensure that their expectations are not high, I would tell them that their response may not be as coordinated as what Joe Public is lead to believe. I would tell them that NI remains entrenched in bitterness and cannot cope with it’s own hatred. Everyone knows that entrenched hatred cannot be easily erased. If that were possible NI wouldn’t have the bomb scares, the murders and the sectarian riots that we see today. If it were indeed possible I might have known the person who gave me the skin tone that some here try so hard to make me ashamed of. NI has a long way to go before any newcomer could truly settle here, it needs to clean up the aftermath of it’s indigenous hatred first. It needs to stop talking about looking after the victims (now not only of sectarianism but also of race hate) and until then anyone coming here will be fast on the path of becoming one of NI’s newest victims. Most important of all I would tell them that until NI properly commits to and tightens up its responses and actions to prevent race hate crime, then no, refugees are not welcome here. Quite simply they are not safe. To bring any innocent people here especially those fleeing violence would only create more victims. The last thing NI needs is more victims.
Stats: The Guardian 2014