Reporting Hate Crime: The Problem with Impartiality

Hate Crime Reporting
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By Rachel Elgy: rachel@equaliteach.co.uk

For people with minoritised identities… the rise in hate crimes that has been recorded sadly does not come as a surprise.

In Hate Crime Awareness Week the Home Office released data showing that 124,091 hate crimes were recorded in the year to March 2021.

For people with minoritised identities, and those working in the field of equality and tackling discrimination, the rise in hate crimes that has been recorded sadly does not come as a surprise. The figures demonstrate what many may already have suspected: the number of recorded hate crimes has hit its highest level on record.

A portion of this increase may be attributed to improvements in the way the police record incidents, and a potential increase in reporting. But that is not the whole story; the rest of the story is of a divided nation, with prejudices and inequalities being stoked and worsened.

Race campaigners have highlighted that a rise in online disinformation and conspiracy theories has been used to promote hate and violence, at a time when people have been spending more time online in the national lockdowns of the last year.

It’s important to recognise hate crimes as one part of a bigger picture of inequality, discrimination and prejudice. These incidents don’t happen in a vacuum.

At EqualiTeach, when delivering staff training, we tackle the assumption that just because a person does not shout racial slurs or carry out physical attacks that they may not be playing a role in creating or upholding inequalities. None of us comes from a culturally neutral standpoint, and all of us will have biases and prejudices that have come from all the different influences throughout our lives.

In highlighting this, we are not looking to accuse or to blame, but to empower. All of us can, and should, take responsibility to identify our biases, question our prejudices, and challenge them.

When reading about the rise in hate crimes on social media I was disappointed and frustrated to see quotes shared and repeated where the author likely believes they are being ‘neutral’ or ‘unbiased’ in their reporting, but where they are in fact perpetuating harmful stereotypes and prejudice.

The Home Office report states that there have been “short-term genuine rises in hate crime following certain trigger events.” The Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests of the summer of 2020 has been reported as one such trigger event:

“There was also an increase in public order hate crimes during the summer of 2020 following the widespread Black Lives Matter protests and far-right counter-protests.”

But reporting has fallen short by failing to highlight that the BLM demonstrations were protesting against racist violence, and so any increase in racist hate crimes following these protests were not a direct result of the protests themselves, but of the far-right counter-protests and violence. The protests were heavily policed, but the vast majority (93%) were peaceful.

The Black Lives Matter protests were a response to the racist violence that claimed the lives of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and too many others. However, reports talk of George Floyd’s “death”, rather than of his “murder”, and describe him as an “unarmed black man”, as if there is a hidden assumption that black men would be armed; that armed black men aren’t to be considered innocent; as if it isn’t completely legal in the US to be armed; as if his racist murder was only outrageous because he was unarmed.

It can be easy to minimise issues such as these, to suggest that these subtle differences in words and phrases don’t matter, or have a significant impact, but that is just not the case.

We are constantly receiving and processing information, and using that information to tailor our ideas, opinions and actions. Reading of someone’s death evokes a different emotional response to that of someone’s murder. Framing the discussion about someone’s murder on their own perceived ‘innocence’ detracts from the murder and the murderer.

As a not-for-profit organisation working in the field of equality and diversity, we understand the need for and importance of remaining politically neutral. However, when it comes to prejudice and discrimination, we are proud to be decidedly biased. Biased in favour of equality, justice, and human rights. Biased against all forms of hate crime, and the attitudes, structures and environments that pave the way for those acts to take place.  

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