The Criminal Justice Inspector has recently issued a response to hate crime in Northern Ireland.
There were eight hate incidents a day reported to police in 2016. Let’s just let that sink in – eight hate incidents a day reported to the police in Northern Ireland last year.
While the report expresses concern at the number of incidents it also suggests there is considerable under reporting – so incredibly the number of actual hate incidents may be much higher again.
During the year there were also more racist than sectarian hate incidents which is remarkable given the still relatively low numbers of people from BME communities living in Northern Ireland.
Yet, those people from a black or minority ethnic background tend to be in employment making major economic contribution to the local economy through taxes, rates and spending. They often play crucial roles in our health, education, agri-food and tourism sectors.
BME communities enrich this society socially, culturally and economically. So much has been added through our changing demographics and growing diversity allowing Northern Ireland to look beyond its traditional myopic and often closed mind-set.
The Chief Inspector’s report makes a number of recommendations for the future. They include exploration of tougher legislation and sentencing for hate crime; that the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service should monitor and improve the quality of files used for potential prosecution; and that there should be a more robust policy response through the Executive Office.
All positive and necessary change.
The report highlights some victims of hate incidents are sitting at home in the evening with their lights off hoping that those outside think they aren’t at home. What does that say about our communities outside those houses? What will the children living in those houses grow up thinking about those of us living outside their home?
It is up to all of us to change mind-sets within our community and of those neighbours living with us.
We all have responsibilities as citizens to stand behind our neighbours regardless of their background, faith or ethnicity. We all can take small steps and larger ones to prove that Northern Ireland is a genuinely welcoming place.
As a 14 year old Anne Frank wrote just before being arrested by Nazis “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
We don’t have to aim for the world – let’s start in our own street, now.
Written by Peter Osborne