In the aftermath of the June 2016 EU referendum, Bristol saw a steep surge in hate crime and figures have continued to rise. Bristol24/7 investigates the extent of the problem and what is being done to stem the flow of prejudice and abuse.
Bristol consistently gains accolades as one of the finest places in the country to live, but peel back a layer and it is a city that remains vastly divided, where discrimination is an everyday reality for some.
“It makes you feel utterly worthless. Whatever you try, others will only look out to find something bad in you,” says Val Pospischil, a survivor of hate crime.
“There have been comments like ‘go back to your own country’. I have been shouted at and had my garden vandalised and been accused of things I haven’t done.”
Born in Austria to parents who were WWII refugees, Val came to the UK in 1982 to begin a new life with her partner here. But repeated incidents of discrimination have left her reluctant to speak in public for fear people will recognise that she was not born here.
From abuse in the street, to having people talk behind her back, Val says the actions of others have served to make her feel isolated. This is a reality that all too many face.
Avon and Somerset police have recorded a 46 per cent rise in reported hate crimes since 2015 and are working with Stand Against Racism and Inequality (SARI) and other agencies to address the growing problem.
On October 16, the force became the third in the UK to recognise gender-based hate as a crime in a clear message that misogyny, harassment and abuse that have become ‘normalised’ in society won’t be tolerated.
But it is the steep rise in racially-aggravated crimes that is perhaps the most pressing concern, with police analysts identifying a particular spike in Islamophobic incidents.
Still, the figures fail to portray the full extent of the issue, as many black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are unlikely to report hate crime: whether down to fear, pride, or worry they won’t be believed.
“Director of SARI, Alex Raikes, believes there has been a bit of a “perfect storm” in terms of motivating factors, with austerity, Brexit and terrorist attacks all adding to a surge in people feeling free to voice their prejudice.
“After the Stephen Lawrence murder, there was real importance put on tackling racism but the foot was taken off the pedal. Racism still exists. The first thing in our current society is that people have to realise there is a problem.
“If people do not believe it’s happening, they are not going to come on board in tackling it. The best way to combat racism is to break down barriers and get people to mix.”
Deputy mayor Asher Craig has spoken candidly about the racism she herself has faced. She is currently working with citywide groups as part of the Safer Bristol Partnership to tackle hate crime and address root causes.
Craig revealed that there has been a particularly steep rise in racially-motivated hate crime within predominantly white neighbourhoods of south Bristol, where there is a lack of community cohesion and people are often quite isolated from the wider city.
“If the colour of your skin does not fit, you will be targeted,” says Craig. “The political situation after Brexit has empowered the far right and people feel they can say and do what they want.”
A Runnymede Trust report states that Bristol is the second worst city in the country when it comes to racial inequality and Craig believes there needs to be an open discourse around deep-rooted racism.
“Nobody is born hating anyone and that, for me, is the really interesting thing,” she says, adding that making communities come together is the best way to end this uprising of hatred and fear.
Superintendent Andy Bennett is the force lead for hate crime and says confidence is slowly increasing among vulnerable communities, which is partly reflected in more incidents being reported. He believes that if enough people are passionate about making a difference, they can turn things around for the better.
Aidarus Aidid, a case worker for SARI, works closely with victims of hate crime, particularly in Somali communities, and also runs education workshops in schools. He believes hate crime is down to ignorance and sees education as the solution.
“Helping the community in ways that they cannot help themselves is so needed, and we need more people in my sort of role,” he says. “Some kids will come out with some really shocking things, but they don’t even know what it means. Where it is safe to do so, onlookers need to challenge and stand up to perpetrators of hate crime.”
Like many experts in the field, Aidid places a large portion of blame in the hands of right-wing media, with sensationalised headlines and reporting of terror attacks that reinforce a ‘them and us’ rhetoric, leading to a backlash against BAME communities.
Taxi drivers, of which approximately 75-80 per cent in Bristol are BAME, are a group disproportionately targeted by perpetrators of hate crime.
PC Patrick Quinton has been employed as Bristol’s first ever taxi cop, only the second of his kind outside London, and a big part of his role is to tackle hate crime. Bristol24/7 joined him for a typical shift.
It is late on a Thursday night and work is slow for hackney carriage drivers, waiting patiently at the taxi rank in Bristol city centre.
One of the drivers is back on duty after recently being the victim of a racially-motivated assault. He suffered multiple injuries when a group attacked him in his own cab.
Sadly, the incident is far from rare for a group that is all too often subjected to discrimination and abuse, but – as is often the case – the driver is unwilling to report it as a hate crime for fear he will not be taken seriously.
Quinton stops by to see how the driver is faring after the attack and to encourage him to report it, or at least seek support.
“There are two things I do,” says Quinton. “Firstly, my presence and being out there on the streets helps – drivers can call or text me if there’s any trouble. I also give specialist intelligence to investigating officers.”
Hate crimes are recorded by categories of race, religion, homophobic, transphobic, disablist and gender.