Fifteen years since the death of Stephen Lawrence, there is less and less interest in the scourge of racial violence in the UK, despite murders remaining a major problem.
Racial murders- unprovoked attacks on people not known to perpetrators – in the UK are running at around seven per year. Yet no official body is systematically monitoring their incidence, the police investigations, any prosecution or ultimate sentencing of attackers. Despite the lengthy Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, the seventy recommendations of the Macpherson Report, changes to the police’s recording of racial incidents and an amended Race Relations Act, the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a small, independent charity, remains the only organisation monitoring serious racial violence attacks in the UK.
According to figures released by IRR this week, thirty-three racist murders have taken place between February 2003 and December 2007. Of these, all victims are male. Significantly, in the post-September 11 and 7/7 climate, forty per cent of the murders were of Muslims – either relatively recently-arrived asylum seekers or Pakistanis living or working in poor, deprived neighbourhoods. Asian men working in isolating professions such as cabbing or take-aways are particularly at risk – 15 per cent of the total.
The IRR has a specific definition for identifying a racist attack or murder. It does not follow that BME people are always victims and Whites always perpetrators – though that covers by far the largest category of murders – 88 per cent. The latest research includes the death of Johnny Delaney, a 14-year-old Traveller boy, Kris Donald, 15, a White killed by an Asian gang in Pollockshields, Isiah Young-Sam killed during disturbances between Asians and African-Caribbeans in Birmingham in 2005 and a Polish migrant worker, Adam Michalski, killed in Wrexham. For IRR, identifying racially motivated murders and attacks ‘must depend on an objective evaluation of the whole context in which the murder or attack takes place and not just on the skin colour or ethnicity of the alleged perpetrator(s) or victim. In particular, the IRR would regard a murder or attack as racially motivated if the evidence indicates that someone of a different ethnicity, in the same place and similar circumstances would not have been attacked in the same way…’* (See below for the IRR’s definition)
Look at one year. In 2007, Tarsen Nahar was found dead in Hayes in May, his assailant has been charged with racially aggravated actual bodily harm. Also in May, Marlon Moran was stabbed to death in Garston by a gang, following a campaign of racist abuse. His killer received a sentence of three-and-a-half years for manslaughter. In August, Adam Michalski was stabbed to death in a Wrexham street in what the judge said was an attack with a racial element. His assailant was sentenced to life, with a minimum 17-year term. An Indian sailor, Gregory Fernandes was attacked by a 20-strong gang in Fawley, and later died of his injuries, in what police termed a racial attack. In December, student Ahmed Hassan was stabbed in Dewsbury as he waited for a train to go shopping for Eid presents. Two people have been charged with his murder. Also in December, Asaf Mahmood Ahmed died after being attacked on his way to shops in Bolton. Police were treating it as a racially motivated attack.
According to Harmit Athwal, who compiled the research for IRR, what is worrying is first that so little attention is given to the whole phenomenon. ‘In recent years, other than Anthony Walker, who, except families of the deceased, can name one of these victims? And, second, unless racial motivation is absolutely unequivocal, judges are tending to rule out a racial element to these crimes and this is reflected in sentencing. What looks to us like violent, unprovoked murders are being downgraded to robberies that go wrong or manslaughters. Proven racial motivation of a murder could add substantially to the tariff. But that is rare indeed. Third, the public should realise how prevalent racial violence has become. Every week our news service reports at least three serious cases. There are probably more racial murders than we ever find out about.’
The IRR is not funded to carry out research into racial violence, but has persevered for forty years at what is tantamount to a sleuthing job, so as to collate figures in the light of the lack of public scrutiny and concern. It trawls through hundreds of national and local papers and websites for reports of deaths. It then follows up incidents with local agencies – race equality councils, police forces, community groups, lawyers, the Crown Prosecution service, coroners, and journalists – to find out how a case continues. Again, developments may not even make local news. Occasionally, after the case has made IRR’s records, family members may contact with more details.
Cilius Victor, Trustee of the Newham Monitoring Project (NMP), who led a workshop on racial violence – ‘Learning lessons from the past’ – held at IRR on 25 January, commented: ‘If IRR was not doing this research no one would know about these murders. It is truly shocking. NMP was set up after the murder of Akhtar Ali Baig in Newham in 1980. Twenty-eight years on, such street murders are yet more commonplace.’
Read the IRR’s Factfile on the Racially Motivated Murders (Known or Suspected) 2000 onwards