After I another continuity shift for E4 this evening my support worker Fran and I found ourselves in Shepherds Bush, outside Westfield Shopping centre, at rush hour on Black Friday. The traffic was at a standstill so we had to walk some distance to where our cab home was waiting.
As we moved past the line of static cars a scene of intense distress, anger and tension suddenly erupted in front of us.
A woman waiting at a bus stop was racially abusing a young man sitting in a car in the traffic jam. She called him a terrorist and accused him of being about to blow her up. He got out of the car to talk to her, and an older man who’d been passing confronted her too. She walked away, refusing to engage with the immense distress she had caused.
Fran and I stopped and spoke to both men and encouraged them to report the hate crime they’d just experienced to the police.
The young man was calm but clearly shocked by what had happened. I left feeling intensely sad that his evening had been interrupted by hatred in this way, that the older man would be going home to his family angry, and that the woman would be carrying her prejudices with her, inevitably leading to more distress.
We live in a tense and fearful time. But there can be no justification for racist abuse. We must not allow fear to clutter our minds, divide our society or diminish our humanity.
I’m writing this as a reminder that ignoring injustice doesn’t make it go away. It would’ve been wrong not to acknowledge this incident and its impact on the men I met earlier.
Sadly they’re not alone: the figures for hate crimes in England and Wales paint a bleak picture, with 52,528 recorded incidents in 2014-15, a rise of 18% on the previous year. The overwhelming majority of these were racially motivated. It’s safe to assume these figures represent the tip of the iceberg, with many more incidents going unreported.
I know from my own experience of disability-related hate how dehumanising it can be, and that the impact of these feelings can make it difficult to report. But speaking up about incidents like this is important. Acknowledging that they’re happening and making them visible is the first step to taking action. If you’re someone who’s been affected by hate crime you can find support and advice here.
Hate crime is an issue for us all. Unchallenged it will create cycles of division and fear. We must give hate no room in our hearts or in our heads.