Hate crime continues to rise in the UK and it is a particular problem on public transport. National Hate Crime Awareness Week began on 13th October and many people in Newcastle got involved to stamp out racism on the buses and Metro. Representatives from Newcastle University, Churches, Mosques, schools, and the Women’s Centre congregated at Monument Metro station as part of the Reclaim the Metro campaign. Speeches were made discussing the issues of racial hatred in the north east, before all who were gathered travelled to Whitley Bay on the Metro. This was in response to verbal and physical hate crimes often carried out against Muslims, on Newcastle transport routes.
Muslim women seem to suffer the worst abuse. Taj, one of the event organisers, said that she was a triple whammy, being female, a Muslim and having brown skin. Public transport, if not policed effectively can be a dangerous place for women, who may feel vulnerable travelling alone at night. According to the BBC, hate crime has risen by 40% over the last year. Furthermore, most hate crime is religiously motivated, and directed at Muslims. Many transport operators have adopted a hate crime charter, which will provide victims with more protection. Bus drivers have previously been unsure of how to act when hate crime has taken place, however, the charter will provide them with much clearer guidance in these situations. The Nexus website states that ‘our charter sets out a series of commitments we are making to help the police, local communities and victims. This includes training and awareness raising for staff, the use of assets such as CCTV and social media to fight hate crime, and taking steps to encourage people who witness incidents or become victims to come forward and report them.’
Huw Lewis, customer services director at Nexus, said: ‘Public transport is there for everyone, it plays a big role in bringing communities together and no-one should be put off making journeys.
While the number of reported hate crimes on Metro is low we know that some people don’t choose to report them. It’s vital that any form of discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation or disability is reported to the police so that it can be investigated. Metro serves some very diverse communities, and nobody should feel threatened or intimidated when they travel.’
Dr Helen Jarvis, from Newcastle University, who was also involved in the demonstration, said that, “On campus we have policies that protect students and staff from racist, sexist and religion-based hate crimes. Yet, in most public spaces there is no such protection.
“It is positive to see transport providers step up and share collective responsibility to challenge this behaviour and we thank them for working with us.”
The Courier spoke to Muslims who were running an Islam information stall on Northumberland Street. They were themselves protesting against extremism of all forms. Minhas Younas and Tauseef Ahmed told the Courier that they had not personally experienced hate crime in Newcastle and they felt that they had greater freedom to practise their religion than in other countries where they had lived.
The Courier has also spoken to Newcastle University members of the Islamic society at a charity sale for Islamic Relief. Some of the members reported that they had not experienced serious hate crime but that they had heard of instances of drunk people shouting abuse at Muslims in the street. Casual racism of this form is less likely to be reported but no less of an issue in society. One person said that he found Newcastle was more open and friendlier than Dublin, where he had previously lived.
However, a Muslim woman who wished to remain anonymous said that she had previously experienced harassment on the Metro, being told that she doesn’t belong here. She suggested that incidents like these happen more frequently on public transport because a diverse community uses it, and that it is a setting where people may be agitated or frustrated due to the crowded atmosphere, although this of course does not excuse racist behaviour. The woman also said that she felt that the situation for Muslims in Newcastle had improved in recent years and that more people are willing to stand up and say something if they witness racial abuse.
Events like Reclaim the Metro are evidence of a greater push-back against extremism in Newcastle. Yet this is part of an ongoing struggle. Over 4,000 hate crimes were reported in the North East over the last 12 months and almost 3,000 of these incidents were racially motivated. The Home Office has suggested that Brexit and terrorism have been factors in the sharp increase of reported incidents. A review of current hate crime laws, with recommendations on how to improve them is expected by the end of 2019. Home Secretary Sajid Javid stated, “Hate crime goes directly against the long-standing British values of unity, tolerance and mutual respect - and I am committed to stamping this sickening behaviour out.”
Groups like Citizens UK and members of the community around Newcastle have shown a determination to stand up to those who carry out hate crime, but with a continuing rise in incidents expected to continue, and groups like Britain First holding rallies in the city centre, it is clear that there is more to be done.