Spotlight on racial violence: January – June 2012

July 26, 2012 — Comment

Written by Jon Burnett

An overview of racial violence and harassment in the first six months of 2012.

The Institute of Race Relations (IRR), which documents racist attacks, is now collating regular short briefings on emerging trends in racial violence throughout the UK. And the first six months of 2012 reveals a reality of routine abuse and harassment – from graffiti to vicious assault, from alcohol fuelled vandalism to hate campaigns. At least one attack has proved fatal. Given that these incidents were recorded in the local or (much less frequently) national press, they show only a tiny fraction of the true scale of violence. (51,187 racist incidents were recorded by the police in 2010/11, the last year for which statistics are available.) Nonetheless, they do provide a snapshot of the reach and impact of popular racism.

Racist abuse is high on the public agenda at the moment. Or, to be more specific, racist abuse which is carried out by footballers or has footballers as the victims is high on the agenda. This is unsurprising. When the England captain has been embroiled in allegations that he racially abused another Premier League player, when high profile footballers are routinely peppered with racist insults through their Twitter accounts or when players are made to endure racist chants by opposing (or their own, for that matter) ‘fans’, it has all the ingredients for a media frenzy. It is a fixation which is reflected in countless blogs, documentaries and column inches and, at the very least, it has forced a re-evaluation of the carefully cultivated façade that racism in the sport is now in the past.

Rarefied though footballers’ lives may be, what happens on the pitch is actually a good indicator of the way racism percolates the lives of people on a daily basis. Quickly and easily a culture of casual racism, largely unacknowledged, and supposedly consigned to the past, can turn into racist abuse and violence.

Many of the cases which we document below make clear that certain workers remain at high-risk of abuse and attack – especially those who ply their trade in the night-time economy as taxi drivers, staff in convenience stores, takeaway workers and employees in off-licences. (Read an IRR News story: ‘Racial violence and the night-time economy’) They also show attacks on the streets taking place in the context of what at first seem minor altercations, but rapidly morph into brutal violence. Like many of the examples of racist abuse that have taken place in relation to football, these are cases which show how the most petty, trivial frustrations can trigger brutal racial violence; where a prejudice just beneath the surface of day-to-day reality can quickly and unexpectedly manifest itself in abuse, threats and assault. Witness the man who threatened to burn a shop down in Crosby a few months ago, calling the Asian workers ‘rats’ and squirting cleaning fluid into one of their faces simply because he was refused a bottle of vodka on credit; the man who went on a spree of violence in a chip shop in Liverpool, racially abusing Asian staff members and attacking customers simply because he asked for tissues and felt he was given too few; the man in Birmingham who, infuriated at not being able to watch a certain film at a cinema, vented his anger by ripping off a woman’s niqab.

Of course, this is not to say that racist attacks do not always take place without any foresight or planning. Disturbingly, our research also exposes a trend of racist attacks against children, families and parents with their children, some of which involve ongoing, organised campaigns of harassment, terrorising families in their own homes. In Kidderminster, for example, a child’s pet rabbit was mutilated and hung up in full view in a sadistic incident which made up only one part of a long-standing ‘hate’ campaign. In Salford, meanwhile, a black woman pushing her baby in a pram was racially abused by a man who went on to throw acid over her which burnt through her clothes and left her needing hospital treatment. And in Edinburgh, a 12-year-old Asian schoolgirl, who had been called a ‘P*ki bastard’ on Facebook, was attacked by about ten other schoolgirls who took it in turns to kick her in her head, beating her with such force that she was left with double vision.

Taken together, the attacks which we document give a glimpse of a reality of racial violence which occurs day-in-day-out, up and down the UK, from the most rural of villages to large cities. At the same time, our monitoring also indicates that supporters of far-right groups remain prepared to resort to violence and destruction in order to make their presence felt. For all of the English Defence League’s (EDL) PR spin about peaceful protest, for example, for all of its vapid manoeuvring, attempting to present itself as an organisation upholding and promoting human rights, the reality is that its marches frequently continue to descend into drunken bullying and violence, supporters continue to attack people, and the internet remains a medium through which supporters peddle racist abuse. (Read an IRR News story: ‘From portrayal to reality: examining the record of the EDL’)

Below is a selection of those attacks which have taken place between 1 January and 30 June 2012.

Targeting young people, families or mothers with children

  • June 2012: Officers from Brighton and Hove council were called to investigate a ‘culture of racial abuse’ at a school in Brighton, where black and ‘mixed race’ pupils were routinely being bullied, harassed and in some cases physically attacked. One girl had been forced to flee from a gang of pupils attacking her, of whom one threatened her with a knuckleduster (detailed further, below). (Brighton Argus, 8 July 2012)
  • 28 May 2012: Amara Jaffer, a 13-year-old schoolgirl, was among the victims of a series of racially motivated attacks in Gloucester. Amara was just a few metres from her home when the driver and occupants of a passing Transit van sprayed her in the face with an unknown liquid. Other victims, in separate attacks by the same people, said they were racially abused. (Gloucester Citizen, 30 May 2012)
  • 22 May 2012: A 30-year-old Asian woman playing with her three children in a park in Manchester was told by three teenage girls to take her children away from the swings. The teenagers then racially abused and kicked her, before a man with the teenagers indecently exposed himself to the woman. (Manchester Evening News, 25 May 2012)
  • 4 May 2012: A car owned by a young Polish couple was completely destroyed in an arson attack, believed to be racially motivated, in Portadown, just weeks after neighbouring Polish and Lithuanian families, and a family from East Timor, had their homes vandalised. (Portadown Times, 6 May 2012)
  • May 2012: The father of Rahim Dad, a 13-year-old schoolboy in Bristol, said that he would only allow his son to return to school if the family was given assurances of the boy’s safety. Rahim’s mother had taken him out of the school having found him cowering in an alley after a racist attack – one incident among many. The boy had been racially abused incessantly for over a year and at one point had to be taken to hospital after an attacker stamped on his chest. In 2012, his mother was brought before a magistrate’s court for failing to ensure his attendance at school. (Bristol Post, 5 May 2012)
  • May 2012: Two families in Kidderminster endured what police described as a ‘hate campaign’ of racist abuse, including threatening messages written on signs placed outside their homes. Although the harassment had already gone on for about eighteen months, Crimestoppers put up a £2,000 reward in May after a child’s pet rabbit was killed, mutilated and its remains hung where the families would see it. (BBC News, 6 June 2012)
  • 22 March 2012: A black woman who was pushing her baby in a pram in Salford was left with permanent scars after a white man racially and sexually abused her before throwing acid in her face. (Voice, 26 March 2012)
  • 18 March 2012: In Edinburgh, a group of up to ten teenage girls took it in turns to kick a 12-year-old Asian girl in the head in a frenzied attack which left her with double vision and with her arm in a sling. The abuse began with people calling her a ‘P**i bastard’ on Facebook. (Daily Record, 21 March 2012)
  • 9 March 2012: Two men and a woman entered a shop in Sunderland, punched the owner, Saly Chowdhury, and ripped out chunks of her hair. They then racially abused her terrified children and spat on them. (Sunderland Echo, 13 March 2012)
  • 3 March 2012: A group of Bangladeshi children playing football in Dagenham were subjected to racist abuse by a large number of spectators. Nine people were arrested and police were searching for another fifteen people. (Barking and Dagenham Post, 8 March 2012)
  • 13 February 2012: A woman from Thailand travelling on a bus in Plymouth with her 4-year-old child was subjected to a torrent of racist abuse by five teenagers who spat on her, mocked her accent and carried on abusing her when, sobbing, she approached the bus-driver for help. (Plymouth Herald, 19 March 2012)
  • February 2012: After a ‘mixed race’ teenage girl fell out with school friends in Brighton, she was subjected to a four-month campaign of abuse and harassment. Initially she was sent texts and messages via social media calling her a ‘black b***h’ and telling her to ‘go back to Africa’; soon after she was being harassed on her way to and from school, and in May she was attacked by a group of about twenty people before managing to escape after one of them threatened her with a knuckleduster. (Brighton Argus, 4 July 2012)
  • January 2012: A black family in east Belfast were forced to flee their home after a spate of racist attacks. In one incident, an eight-year-old girl was injured when a rock was thrown through her bedroom window and her father said that the family had to leave as he feared for his five children’s lives. (BBC News, 18 April 2012)

Attacks, graffiti and threats by supporters of far-right groups

  • 28 June 2012: A swastika was spray-painted on a front door in Fleetwood, as well as obscenities written on a window and a car damaged. (Fleetwood Weekly, 19 July)
  • 19 June 2012: A community centre in Blackburn was daubed with graffiti, including numerous racist insults and a swastika. (Lancashire Telegraph, 21 June 2012)
  • 22 May 2012: The Haamara Centre in Preston was broken into by vandals who caused extensive internal damage. Windows were smashed and the walls were covered in racist graffiti as well as swastikas. (Lancashire Evening Post, 28 May 2012)
  • 28 April 2012: Two pensioners in Lewisham, handing out anti-fascist leaflets, were attacked by a gang who made reference to a recent demonstration in Brighton by ‘March for England’ – a group with links to the EDL which had been opposed by anti-fascists. 69-year-old Andrew Smith was head butted and later needed laser surgery for a torn retina. His 67-year-old friend was punched to the floor. (News Shopper, 30 April 2012)
  • April 2012: Five members of the North West Infidels, a splinter group of the EDL, were arrested ‘on suspicion of stirring up racial hatred’ in connection to their activities on social networking sites. The arrests were carried out in Northumbria, County Durham, Merseyside, Barnsley and London. (Independent, 19 April 2012)
  • 17 March 2012: After an EDL march in Cleckheaton, pockets of violence broke out throughout the surrounding areas. In Heckmondwike, a window of a Co-op was smashed. In various locations throughout Kirklees, members of the public were abused. And in Dewsbury, a 35-year-old Asian man was assaulted by a group of men and needed hospital treatment. (Spenborough Guardian, 23 March 2012)
  • 2 March 2012: An EDL supporter told an Asian taxi-driver that he was ‘not welcome here’, pointing to EDL slogans on his T-shirt and launching a tirade of abuse. When he was arrested he sang EDL songs and police later found anti-Muslim posts on his Facebook page. (Daventry Express, 6 March 2012)
  • 24 February 2012: Up to 200 youths gathered outside a takeaway owned by Asians in Rochdale – a town where several Asian men were at that point on trial for the sexual abuse of white girls – and attacked the business. Taxi drivers were threatened and the police were also attacked when they arrived, and some of the perpetrators shouted their support for the EDL. (Islamophobia Watch, 24 February 2012)
  • 10 February 2012: Kurtis Cawley, an EDL activist, was sacked from his job as a supermarket security officer in Liverpool after he left pork scratchings outside the front door of the building, ‘joking’ that it would deter Muslims. Cawley had also posted a series of racist rants on Facebook and he was dismissed for gross misconduct. (Liverpool Echo, 18 February 2012)

Anti-Muslim attacks not known to involve far-right groups

  • June 2012: Several graves in the Muslim section of a cemetery in Leeds, including the grave of one of the perpetrators of the July 2005 terrorist attacks in London, were vandalised. Headstones were pulled over and offensive messages were scrawled on them. (BBC News, 15 June 2012)
  • 2 April 2012: Firefighters were called to a mosque in Luton after two bins were pushed against one of its doors and set alight. A representative of the mosque said Muslim leaders suspected that the attack was deliberate. (Luton Herald & Post, 2 April 2012)
  • April 2012: An Islamic Centre in Altrincham, Trafford, was attacked repeatedly throughout April. Windows were smashed and the building was vandalised. (Messenger, 25 April 2012)
  •  3 March 2012: A white male approached a Muslim woman walking with her family in a shopping centre in Birmingham, grabbed her by the head and ripped off her niqab. He later told a court that he was angry as he had been to the cinema and the film that he wanted to see was not showing. (Birmingham Mail, 13 June 2012)   
  • February 2012: After the West Norfolk Islamic Association submitted an application to change the use of a pub to a community centre which would be used by Muslims, racist graffiti was daubed on its walls. Police later arrested a man but the CPS dropped the case, leading the police to call for a review of the decision. (Lynn News, 18 May 2012)

Workers at risk of attack

  • 4 June 2012: A man was arrested after staff at a newsagent in Liverpool claimed he subjected them to racist abuse. A month earlier, Sam Harrison, 19, was jailed for manslaughter for stabbing Mahesh Wickramasingha, a man who worked at the same newsagent. Some of the staff members who were abused had been present when the stabbing had taken place, and the owner of the business said that he had had to cancel a vigil in the shop in memory of Mahesh due to safety fears. (Liverpool Echo, 12 June 2012)
  • 19 May 2012: Harun Shah Zaman, a taxi driver in Leicester, was brutally beaten and robbed by four passengers. One of the passengers headbutted him and another punched him in the face before the other two (female) passengers joined in the assault. The group then stole his wallet, his cash bag, his keys and his sat nav (which they smashed on the floor) and ran off. Despite there being several witnesses to the attack, nobody intervened. (Leicester Mercury, 21 May 2012)
  • 6 May 2012: Wajahat Hafeez, a restaurant worker in Plymouth, was assaulted and racially abused by a 26-year-old white man and left with damaged teeth, a cut lip and facial bruising. (Plymouth Herald, 8 May 2012)
  • 3 April 2012: In Somerset, the sons and sons-in-law of the owner of the Bengal Fusion restaurant were forced to defend the business against a group of attackers smashing windows and shouting racist abuse. When the police arrived though, they arrested those defending the property and Shah Alom, the restaurant owner, later said that the extent of the abuse coupled with the police response had made him consider leaving the area where he had lived for the previous twenty-two years. (Western Gazette, 5 April 2012)
  • 24 March 2012: 22-year-old Ryan Doran entered a chip shop in Liverpool with a bleeding hand and asked for tissues. When he was given them, he was unhappy with the quantity and went on a spree of violence, racially abusing Asian staff members, spitting at them, threatening them and going on to assault other customers. One woman was kicked in the face and a man punched in the face. (Liverpool Echo, 3 April 2012)
  • 10 March 2012: A Romanian taxi-driver in Plymouth was racially abused and attacked by a man who split open his lip and caused over £1,000 damage to the vehicle. (Plymouth Herald, 22 May 2012)
  • 4 March 2012: In East Lothian, two men entered Kopa’s takeaway, a kebab shop, and attacked the owner after one got paint on his jacket. The owner was seriously injured and police officers said that they were treating the attack as a hate crime as there were reports it was ‘aggravated by race’. As the assault was taking place, John Auld, a 59-year-old delivery driver for the takeaway tried to help his employer but was hurt in the fracas and later died of heart failure. According to friends, he was planning on giving up his job because of concerns about violence in the area. (Daily Record, 6 March 2012)
  • February 2012: Michael Paul Burke, 22, threatened to burn a shop in Crosby down when the staff refused to give him a bottle of vodka on credit. He called the Asian staff ‘rats’, threw items on the counter and squirted cleaning fluid in one staff members face. (Crosby Herald, 31 May 2012)
  • 27 January 2012: After a group of about ten people in Blairgowrie ordered some food from a takeaway, following a lengthy drinking session, one of them was asked to leave the premises. At this, one of the group, 19-year-old Mark Feasey, racially abused the staff and assaulted one of the Pakistani staff members. (Courier, 18 July 2012)    

Street attacks

  • 2 June 2012: A Polish man talking on his mobile phone was approached by three white males who began racially abusing him. One of the men then punched him in the face, fracturing his cheek bone, before the trio ran away. (Runcorn and Widnes World, 22 June 2012)
  • 26 May 2012: A group of Slovakian men were sitting on a beach in Hastings, waiting for a friend, when several men began kicking gravel at them and making racist comments. Although the Slovakian men walked away, the attackers followed them and assaulted them before running away. (Hastings Observer, 4 June 2012)
  • 19 May 2012: An Algerian man waiting on his bicycle at a zebra crossing in Plymouth was assaulted and then racially abused in an unprovoked racist attack. (Plymouth Herald, 1 June 2012)
  • 19 May 2012: Two Polish men were assaulted in a vicious racist attack by two other men, one of whom was said to have used a piece of wood with nails in the end. Both of the Polish men were injured: one with a minor hand wound and the other with a head injury which required stitches. (Crimestoppers, 21 May 2012)
  • 6 May 2012: Seymour Pantry, a disabled man with a prosthetic leg, was beaten to the floor by a man in Barnstaple and was left with cuts around his eyes and mouth. When he was prone on the ground his attacker began racially abusing him. Mr Pantry, whose teenage brother was murdered in a racist attack in Manchester in the 1980s, was furious that the police only cautioned the offender. (North Devon Journal, 24 May 2012)
  • 2 April 2012: An Asian man was savagely beaten in an unprovoked racist attack in Northampton by a white male who was walking a pitbull–type dog. The victim, with his wife at the time of the incident, crossed the road away from the attacker when he racially abused them; but the white male then followed the couple and headbutted and punched him to the floor. (Northampton Chronicle & Echo, 5 April 2012)
  • 25 March 2012: An ex-soldier who had toured Afghanistan was arrested by police who had been called to a disturbance in Llanelli. The police were talking to some Polish people when the former soldier approached them aggressively and shouted ‘these Polish ***** should not be in the country taking our ******* jobs’. After several warnings, the police arrested him and as they did so he said ‘I want racism put on my charge – because I am one’. (Llanelli Star, 2 May 2012)
  • 17 February 2012: A Chinese student was beaten to the ‘verge of unconsciousness’ in Plymouth in an unprovoked racist attack as she was walking home from a nightclub. Police investigating the incident said that ‘it’s quite clear that she was targeted simply because she was Chinese’. (Plymouth Herald, 20 February 2012)
  • February 2012: Two men in Plymouth were arrested for their part in a racist attack on an Iraqi man which left him hospitalised with a broken leg. Such was the severity of the attack that a senior police officer said he would defy anyone ‘not to feel sickened’. (Plymouth Herald, 29 February 2012)

Racism in football

  • 24 June 2012: About 150 England fans in Bedford targeted Italian supporters after Italy knocked England out of the 2012 European Championship. The Italian fans had formed a cavalcade of vehicles to celebrate and some of the cars were damaged, as well as one Italian fan attacked. (BBC News, 25 June 2012)
  • 15 April 2012: Chelsea fan Stephen Fitzwater was banned from football matches for three years after he was heard racially abusing Chelsea striker Didier Drogba in an FA Cup semi-final game against Tottenham. (Metro, 3 May 2012)
  • 26 January 2012: Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand was sent death threats through the post, along with a shotgun cartridge, ahead of a game against Chelsea. John Terry, Chelsea’s captain, had been charged by the police of committing a racially aggravated offence against Anton Ferdinand in 2011 (a charge which in July 2012 he was acquitted of). (Daily Mirror, 27 January 2012)
  • 25 January 2012: Nine football supporters were arrested, accused of racist chanting on a train between Putney and Waterloo following a game between Fulham and Charlton Athletic on 7 January. (News Shopper, 25 January 2012)
  • 1 January 2012: A 16-year-old student was ordered to carry out 100 hours of community service after racially abusing Inverness Caledonian Thistle striker Gregory Tade and telling him to ‘give up life’ on Twitter. (BBC News, 18 May 2012)

RELATED LINKS

Read a press release on an IRR report: New geographies of racism: Stoke-on-Trent

Read a press release on an IRR report: New geographies of racism: Plymouth

Read an IRR News story: ‘Police racism  - enshrined in practice?

Read an IRR News story: ‘96 murders since Stephen Lawrence’s

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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