Every day on the streets of the UK, in playgrounds, classrooms, shops, at work, on public transport, black and minority ethnic people are racially harassed.
This can take any form, from a racist tweet on social media to a physical attack. For some people, particularly those who move to a new area and are isolated from friends and family, persistent harassment can be both intimidating and psychologically damaging. They dare not step outside their homes to do the simplest things like putting out the rubbish, they dare not let their children play in the garden, their cars cannot be parked safely outside and, even in their homes, families do not feel safe. They may receive threatening phone calls, their houses can be daubed with racist messages, windows can be broken and firebombs have even been pushed through letterboxes in the dead of night.
Racial violence is not new; in the race riots of 1919, Charles Wootton was killed in Liverpool. And Jewish refugees to Britain put up with constant harassment at the beginning of the 20th century. Black people, particularly those who arrived in the 1950s and 1960s, when politicians were whipping up racial hatred, had to try to organise within their communities for protection against such violence. For the additional problem was that the authorities – the police, the courts and judiciary – did not understand the nature and severity of the racial violence that minorities had to undergo. This meant that the police did not take reports of attacks seriously, they were not properly investigated, culprits were not found. And, when they were, serious charges were not brought and magistrates and judges were often too lenient in their sentencing. The result was that minority communities lost faith in the criminal justice system and, of course, that perpetrators of violence went free.
During the 1980s and early 1990s there were attempts by community groups and campaigners to win redress for victims, especially in the housing and educational sectors and have the issue recognised by local authorities, But, since the murder of schoolboy Stephen Lawrence in 1993, the campaigning by his family and others, and the subsequent report by Macpherson (1999) into the incompetence and racism shown by the police who were investigating this racial violence death, more formal attempts have been made to conclusively remedy the situation. The police began to log racial incidents reported to them and statistics were published of their extent. But as from 2012, crimes relating to racial violence or harassment have become counted as one aspect of the larger notion of ‘Hate Crime’.
There is now a recognition that there is such a thing as a hate crime, which is defined by the police and Crown Prosecution Service as
‘Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on a person’s disability or perceived disability; race or perceived race; or religion or perceived religion; or sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation or transgender identity or perceived transgender identity.’
The five personal characteristics set out in the definition – race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender status – are the only centrally monitored strands of hate crime.
Race and religious hate crime
There is no single piece of legislation criminalising race and religious hate crime in England and Wales. Instead, there are different ways in which the law deals with such crimes:
- The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 sections 29-32 allow for prosecution of aggravated forms of certain ‘basic’ offences – such as assault or criminal damage – that were motivated by hatred on the grounds of race or religion; see also Sentencing Council.
- Section 145 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 requires racial and religious hostility to be treated as an aggravated factor at sentencing.
- The Public Order Act 1986 Parts III and 3A (inserted by the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006) deal with offences of stirring up hatred based on race or religion.
- The Football Offences Act 1991 deals with racist chanting at matches, throwing of missiles or invading of the pitch.
- Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 relates to sending electronic messages which are ‘grossly offensive’, convey a threat or are menacing.
In 2019/20 there were 105,090 hate crimes recorded by police in England and Wales (excluding Greater Manchester) an increase of 8 % on the previous year. The vast majority of hate crimes were race hate crimes accounting for 76,070 (72% of all) offences – an increase of 6% on 2018/19. Religious hate crimes accounted for 6,822 offences, the first fall since 2012/13. Of the religious hate crimes 50% were against Muslims and 19% against Jews.
Statistics over time
Statistics on hate crime in Scotland are available here
Statistics on hate crime in Northern Ireland are available here
Nature of ‘Race and religious hate’ crime prosecutions
Of race hate offences which resulted in a charge being brought:
9% related to violence against the person;
11% related to public order offences;
6% related to criminal damage or arson.
Of religious hate offences which resulted in a charge being brought:
7% were violence against the person;
9% related to public order offences;
15% related to criminal damage or arson.
To find out more about the law and how prosecutions are brought, see the Crown Prosecution guidance.
Though the word ‘hate crime’ suggests that it is an individualised and emotion-led issue, research shows that levels of racial violence – or race or religious hate crime – are very much influenced by the political climate at any one time and especially the words of politicians and the coverage by the media. How we see others and feel about others is constantly being created and reinforced by the culture around us. Sometimes the context will be local or national, sometimes international.
- Analysis in 1976 for ‘What the Papers Say’ TV programme when anti-immigration discussions were rife: ‘On 2 May 1976 the News of the World headline read: ‘One slips through on every boat’; three days later Asian parents in Redbridge made an appeal for the safety of their children after they were constantly attacked in the playground. On 6 May the Sun headlined, ‘Another 20,000 Asians are on the way’ and ‘Storm over two-wife immigrant’. That night an Asian shop in West Essex was repeatedly attacked. On 7 May the Sun reported, ‘4-star Asians run up £4,000 bill’ and ‘Queue jumping rumpus’. The Guardian on 9 May headlined, ‘Asians rile neighbours’. The next day a concrete slab was hurled through the window of an Asian’s house in Hackney, paraffin was poured over furniture and it was set alight. Four days later a 40-year-old Bengali in Oldham was beaten and knifed by a gang of fifteen white youths…’ (‘Race and the Press’, Race & Class, 18, no1, 1976)
- During the debate about Brexit in 2016, when much was being made in campaigning by politicians about immigration and the need to maintain a distinct British identity, racial violence increased significantly. See Racial violence and the Brexit state.
- In 2018 after Boris Johnson derided Muslim women in full face veils as looking like letter-boxes, Islamophobic incidents rose 375%.
- In 2020 as the Coronavirus took hold, with its origins in China, the number of attacks on British east and southeast Asians soared.
- In 2020 racially motivated hate crimes increased by a third during the period of the Black Lives Matter protests following the killing of George Floyd in the US in May and far-right counter demonstrations, according to a Home Office report.
- In May 2021, during heightened tension between Israel and Gaza, the Community Security Trust reported a 500% increase in antisemitic incidents in the UK and Tell Mama recorded a 430 % rise in reports of anti-Muslim hatred.
- In August 2021, following UK politicians’ failure to endorse the respectful ‘taking of the knee’ by players, the defeat of England in the Euro 2020 final led to a wave of racist social media abuse which was aimed at black England players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Sako. See Voice for Change on racial abuse
Reporting racial violence or race hate crime
The number of recorded race hate crimes is frightening enough, but we should be aware that many incidents, especially when they are a regular occurrence or involve micro-aggression, will not be reported to the police. People may be reluctant to approach the police, they may feel intimidated or that they will not be taken seriously.
There are a number of organisations to which one can report a racial incident or hate crime, including:
The Police directly
Stop Hate UK which records all forms of hate crime
Community Security Trust which records attacks on Jews
In addition to the above, some organisations specifically provide support or advice.
Victim Support which supports all victims of crime and traumatic incidents
The Monitoring Group which, as a community group, supports, advises and campaigns for families, such as that of Stephen Lawrence.