I’m a tall, white, heterosexual, middle aged man and my belly is growing too big for my frame, so writing about hate crime lacks some credibility. However, I do recall being disturbed at primary school when a new boy who had moved from Africa spent his playtime with crowds of children around him making ooh ooh eee aah sounds. I still look back and wonder why there was no adult intervention.
I have remained lifelong friends with that boy and despite his adversities, he grew up to become very successful. Another friend from school moved hundreds of miles away from home because he was gay and was concerned about physical violence if he came out in a post-industrial Scottish town. In his case, I’m convinced that adversities from his childhood contributed to his premature death. Other observations of hatred and division from my Scottish childhood include derision of; English people, learning disabilities and even the labels on clothes or shoes. There is also the people of colour problem in Scotland – that orange and green thing!
Although my life started out with a low benchmark of equality and diversity, I’m not complacent about the need for improvements and I’m not complacent about my own personal unconscious bias. Sorry, I’m only human and I’m in the middle of a lifetime pursuit of observing and conquering my faults. I am improving though, even if I still struggle with negative stereotypes about Daily Mail readers!
Many factors have supported our national diversity journey. We have moved from open hatred and frequent violence to more casual hatred masked by political correctness, however diversity training is not normally effective, unless it has an element to invoke moments of truth about unconscious bias – instead it can be counter-productive.[i] Beating people up with a diversity stick does not work – being angry and judgmental obstructs change to hatred and bigotry.
Reliably benchmarking hate crime is important for recording progress – it is better than 40-year-old anecdotes and perceptions. This can only be achieved by improving reporting rates. There is also a need to expand the scope of challenging hatred to include accents, homelessness and poverty. The abuse of roofless people by affluent weekend drinkers in our cities is particularly disturbing, regardless of any protected characteristics they have.
However, we need to be realistic about our expectations of the justice system to change hearts, minds and behaviours. I have come across too many perpetrators of hate crimes who feel victimised and over-punished, even though the aggravated offence resulted in low level court disposals.
I can recall frequent remarks which appear to genuinely imply or state that “I’m not a racist” or “they would never have prosecuted a black person”. The fact that an equalities campaigner was recently convicted for making racially abusive remarks to the Scottish Defence League linked (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-37803531) suggests that absurdities may exist in the prosecution process for lower level hate crime and that many perceptions are misguided, (although I am not familiar with this case other than the linked report).
The toxicity of hate crime convictions create a long term legacy for perpetrators by over-restricting access to employment or services such as education. Our work with recruiters has shown that a minor hate crime disposal creates exponential barriers to employment or education, if that conviction is disclosed.
We must also consider any outcomes in terms of poverty impacts. Pejorative terms associated with hate crime aggravators are common parlance among certain generations and communities. The misuse of this language within the context of a heated dispute is complex and this is especially true for individuals with communication difficulties or people who have difficulties asserting themselves.
I’m aware of hate crime survivors who later committed suicide and my final point is to consider the wellbeing of victims. There is no doubt that human adversities such as hate crime can result in long term trauma but healthy relationships are the very tonic required to heal people after adversity. I am convinced in many cases, mediation would be a much better response to achieve this than criminal justice.
In short, I am concerned that Lord Bracadale’s Review of Hate Crime Legislation in Scotland may not invoke practical improvements if it recommends increasing punitive approaches. Although hate crime remains a priority problem in Scotland, it requires all of us to step up not just the police and courts.
Director – Policy Development
Recruit With Conviction