By Mike Rowley
Three black men were racially abused and beaten up by a large white gang as they left a pub in Essex. A Zimbabwean student was repeatedly punched and racially abused by two white men in Clydebank. Two prison guards were sacked for urinating on a black colleague.
These are the violent racist crimes reported today by the Institute of Race Relations. There are one or more new reports almost every day. Racist violence is an escalating problem in Britain.
Political events are partly to blame. There has been an increase in racism against people of Muslim background since the beginning of Bush and Blair’s “war on terror”.
There has also been a huge rise in anti-Semitism, with a particularly sharp increase in the number of serious assaults on Jewish people. “The Middle East factor” has been blamed for this. According to the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, neo-nazis throughout Europe are attempting to capitalise on the situation in Israel/Palestine to foment hatred of Jews.
There were 60 murders with known or suspected racial motives between 1991 and 2003, committed overwhelmingly by white people against Black and Asian people (the only two white victims was targetted because one was married to a black man and the other helped black children who were being racially attacked).
This paper has reported on the alarming rise in anti-Roma racism, and in 2003 the first racist murder of a British Roma traveller in recent times was recorded — Johnny Delaney, aged 14, was kicked to death by two white youths.
In Eastern Europe this kind of incident is commonplace, and anti-Roma racism is whipped up by organised fascists.
Many of these murders were not properly investigated. The response to the murder of Stephen Lawrence is the best known example of the unwillingness of the police to investigate racist attacks, a reluctance overcome only by the courage and persistence of Stephen’s family and anti-racist campaigners.
Anyone researching the official response to racist violence in the last two decades will discover a litany of, at best, complete incompetence and at worst, racism on the part of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
Refusal to treat incidents as racially motivated despite clear evidence that they were; refusal to prosecute when there is enough evidence to satisfy any jury not picked from the membership records of the BNP; deliberate destruction of evidence; refusal to investigate racist police who have refused to investigate other racists.
To point the finger of blame for the rise in racist crime is both easy and complicated, because there are so many targets to point at. Some commentators fail to see the wood for the trees.
Much has of course been made of “institutional racism” in the police force, especially after the Macpherson inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence case and, more recently, the secret filming of Greater Manchester police trainees expressing virulently racist opinions.
However, this approach inevitably concentrates on response rather than cause. The racism on the street undoubtedly owes much to politicians and the media.
One could scarcely ask for a better example than the current General Election campaign, which is seeing an unedifying scramble for the bigot vote. Political leaders, far from challenging racist filth, are happily “sitting in a sewer, and adding to it”.
Michael Howard, desperate to save his leadership, has proposed compulsory TB and HIV tests for migrants, with automatic deportation if they are ill. When Home Secretary Charles Clarke, who is himself proposing drastic curbs on immigration, said that migrants had contributed and continued to contribute greatly to British society, Howard accused him of “undermining” the security of Britain’s borders!
The lower echelons of the media aid and abet this racism. The Dover and Folkestone Herald, which described asylum seekers as “human sewage”, fell foul of the Press Complaints Commission, but more circumspect rage such as the Daily Mail and the Sun say the same thing more politely every day without exciting comment.
There is an alternative. As socialists, we believe in human solidarity, and we know that it can and does win out over the divisions fostered by our rulers. Many of the miners who went on strike 20 years ago were racist, sexist and homophobic until they met black people, politically active women and gays and lesbians on the picket line.
Time and again both statistical and anecdotal evidence has shown that the people most likely to be prejudiced are those who have never meaningfully interacted with the object of their aversion. In the major recent survey of prejudices, none of the many people who expressed prejudice against asylum seekers had ever met one.
But human beings cannot remain stupid and ignorant for ever. Individual anti-racist campaigns can achieve a lot. It will be when, as in the miners’ strike, the majority of people identify fundamentally with their interests as members of a class, rather than a race or a nation, that we will finally have a chance of eradicating the plague of racism.
Coming of age… young refugees facing deportation
Conference, Saturday 26 February
Registration: 10.30am, Grimond Building, University of Kent, Canterbury
Speakers include: pupils from Canterbury High School • Amanda Weston, barrister • Sarah Cutler, Bail for Immigration Detainees • Eric Allison, the Guardian prison correspondent
Entry fee: Unwaged — free; waged — £5 suggested or donation
Organised by Kent Campaign to Defend Asylum Seekers, PO Box 192, Whitstable, Kent CT5 1WA. Tel 07789 961744