Equity Diversity Interdependence
Promoting a Peaceful and Fair
Society based on Reconciliation
and Mutual Trust.
Hate Crime, Policing and Human Rights in a violently divided society.
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me--
and there was no one left to speak out for me
Hatred and the emergence of Human Rights
Hate crime is not a new phenomenon. In the 13th century, all Jews were removed from England on the basis that they were responsible for the murder of Jesus Christ. In the 20th Century, the Nazi death camps sought to eliminate all of the supposedly 'racially impure' elements of European life – Jews, Gypsies, Communists and other dissidents, homosexuals and the mentally disabled or ill.
At Nuremberg in 1945, the allies ruled that some acts were so vile, that national law or obeying military orders could not be used as a defence. The notion of 'human rights' came of age. Drawing on the so-called golden rule – do unto others as you would be done by – human rights was the effort to put into legal form the assertion that every person had the right to be treated irreducibly as a fully human person, and to have that right defended by all states at all times.
Without using or even considering the term 'hate crime', what the framers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights knew in 1945 was that crimes committed in the name of one group against another mattered profoundly for the future of humanity. And the apparatus of human rights law was the first line of defence in seeking to both limit the damage and seek a new standard for measuring civilisation in human relations.
Hatred in Northern Ireland
According to some definitions, hate crimes are criminal offences motivated either entirely or in part by the fact or perception that a victim is different from the perpetrator. Northern Ireland is, by that definition, no stranger to hate crime. Indeed the problem may be that hatred of others, and the legitimating of acts which by any democratic definition must qualify as criminal - murder, shooting, bombing, robbery, possession of weapons, conspiracy, expulsion from homes and districts, harassment, intimidation, attacks on cultural symbols or community resources - escalated to such a degree here, that we could hardly distinguish what was criminal from what was normal. We became, to coin a phrase, a criminally hating society.
When hatred escalates, what matters is the groups which people are perceived to belong to, not their personal qualities. No amount of personal effort can erase the fatal flaw. In a tragic reversal of Martin Luther King, what matters is the colour of your skin, not the content of your character. In Northern Ireland, political or economic advancement too often depended on religious tradition. Not trusting 'one of them' was the normative principle of political life, infecting the basic institutions of security and law and order. Once sectarian politics descended into violence, the concept of political terror, which requires structure of representative violence whereby people are killed not primarily for who they are or what they might be in their lives but for who they represent, took hold. Thus the Shankill butchers killed 'Catholics' and the Enniskillen bombers killed 'Brits' or 'Unionists' or 'people of a culture which deserves no respect', caring little for the personal tragedy of murder but with the intention of encouraging multiple others to act as required by murdering a few. In 1971, whole areas became entirely protestant or catholic as people fled either actual intimidation or the fear that it would happen shortly. The whole notion of .protestant and catholic areas, which even the Housing Executive and broadcast media in the north of Ireland blandly continue to use, is in the end a terrifying euphemism for 'areas in which no sane member of that community would live unless they want to face intimidation, expulsion or even murder'.
It is important to start from this point, because it is important to bear authentic witness to the scale of the challenge which the notion of hate crime makes to Northern Ireland. The fact that sectarian violence has been so prevalent in Northern Ireland has in many ways mitigated against taking hate crime as a policing idea seriously. The police simply cannot be asked to deal with a problem on this scale on their own.
Paradoxically, hate crime as an issue requiring a police response has come to the fore as a result of violence against other people becoming visible. While Northern Ireland is not unique in recording systemic violence against migrants or gay people or Chinese people or Pakistanis or Catholics or Protestants, two specific legacies of the last thirty five years stand out. First, unlike elsewhere, paramilitary formations with the capacity to control entry and residence in many areas have continued to exist. Secondly, the notion of 'our area' with a distinct idea of who can and can't live there has become embedded in public policy. Against this backdrop, what makes our particular circumstances potentially difficult, is a widely distorted idea of what constitutes 'normal' and an unusually high level of tolerance of organised violence in the service of residential segregation.
The dangers of hate crime
Hate crime does not require specific attention because an assault against one is not equal to assault against another. Rather, hate crime has to be stopped because of its potential to take root, spreading from individual acts to shaping the experience of whole groups. On the one hand, unless hate crime is identified specifically, its roots in wider social attitudes and behaviour are never exposed, and the requirement to address issues of exclusion and social rivalry is lost in the focus on the individual act. On the other, hate crime creates enormous anxiety among others who feel that they too could be the next targets of random violence. Acts which create polarising sense of group solidarity are the biggest longest term threat to ideas of social cohesion, potentially generating antagonistic communities with radically different experiences of social life and identification. Alternatively, numerically smaller and politically weaker groups will experience a disproportionate degree of violence exercised against them. Thus 85% of gay people in Northern Ireland reported a degree of harassment in ICR's 2004 survey. Likewise 51% of migrant workers reported verbal or physical attacks and our rates of violence against people from minority ethnic or racial groups has us dubbed as the race-hate capital of Europe.
If we are to be serious, progress in this area will be measured, in the first instance, by the degree to which any or all violent attacks on others are seen widely to be crime, rather than as some necessary or unfortunate evil. This above all is why our discussions on the legacy of conflict matter here – what is and is not allowable in the future? Even more profoundly, we will be challenged to face the degree to which we have empathised with the legitimations of hatred which violence has encouraged us to accept – they deserved it, I understand why they did it (even if I don't like it), they are bad, but not as bad as…
Because the pernicious, and often unacknowledged element in the concept of hate crime, is the fact that too many people continue to harbour the idea that some acts of violence against some named people are different to others. The unspoken background to too much hate crime is that the violent acts swim in a tide of popular indifference, or even legitimacy.
What is to be done?
If we accept the scale of the challenge and that hate crime matters first to its victims and secondly to society as a whole, then the next obvious question is what should we do? I want to suggest that progress could be made in four broad areas:
1. Public Values
The safety of every member of society critically depends on the rule of law, and a clear commitment within that to human rights and equality for all. The rule of law includes a clear procedure for making laws that ensures access to the whole community to political power. In a sectarianised political system, that requires power-sharing across traditional divisions and a willingness to ensure specific representation for people who cannot fit into such a division of party politics, such as identified minorities. No decision by majority can compromise the equal citizenship of all or the exercise of human rights. Where rights conflict, they must be resolved by dialogue and/or by binding arbitration, but never by violence. No devolution will be possible or even desirable in northern Ireland without these values at their core.
Recent law on hate crime has again raised the issue of policing. Beyond a vigorous approach to prosecution, the police need to ensure three key steps: In the light of Stephen Lawrence, the police need to keep their relationships with minority communities in Northern Ireland under permanent review. The accusation of institutional racism is not an accusation of deliberate bias, but an assertion that unforeseen exclusion occurs in an organisation that assumes that its 'normal' is indeed normal in a context of increasing diversity. Whether with Muslims, gay people or even disable people, the task of the police is to meet, to learn and to change without losing the responsibility to ensure fairness. Secondly, the police should adopt a rigorous attitude to measurement of hate crime, including engaging innovative community safety measures of so-called hate incidents. This should include local information to enable swift response where patterns of incident emerge. Thirdly, there should be an active zero-tolerance approach to hate-crime graffiti including sectarian graffiti. This too will involve more than the police, but the police should be active participants in ensuring that no foothold is given to the public expression of violent sentiment against any one or group.
3. Institutional commitment
Institutional racism, sectarianism, homophobia extend far beyond the police. In the end hatred is not primarily a law and order issue but a critical social and political challenge. Equality law is directed to ensure minimum standards in all public services. At the same time, minimum standards is not enough. There are challenges here for central government – Culture policy, planning, housing, education, community development, for local government and for key institutions such as employers and trade unions. It will not do to continue with the fiction that our only interest in migrants is economic. There is no such thing as an economic migrant without social implications or vice versa. Likewise, it will not do to continue with the notion that people have a right to live in single identity communities. You have no right to put out your neighbour because of his or her colour, religion, politics or sexuality. Likewise, key social institutions like churches must be asked to ensure that the broader social atmosphere is one of welcome and inclusion.
4. Good Relations
If the police cannot deal with the causes of violence, the law cannot deliver real relationship. And where there is real relationship between people, hatred of groups becomes impossible. Policy alone will not resolve antagonism. There must be real human opportunities for growing relationships built on the search for fairness and the vindication of each person, recognising that what is important or precious may vary according to our backgrounds, and that the search in a global world is to give space for each in such a way as the other too can breath, because are deeply interdependent. Workplaces are key opportunities for meeting and working together. There are huge opportunities in education, in community work, in voluntary activity together, in sport and in the arts.
It is not political correctness to say that people should not be attacked for who they are. Even where churches continue to protest moral difficulties with issues of sexuality, it will not do to continue to prioritise those differences in such a way that anyone could believe that violence against people could be legitimate or acceptable.
Good relations is not a question of suppressing real difference. Being able to name violence and exclusion, being able to express real doubts and ensuring that genuine fears or questions can be expressed are critical. Within an atmosphere of intimidation or threat all of this disappears. The central concern of good relations work is not to restrict difference but to create sufficient safety that real issues can be addressed and that power and violence does not decide outcomes. Such a vision will require investment in all of these things the development of skills and structures to promote real freedom of expression for all.
Much of this is foreshadowed in the government's recent policy framework on A Shared Future. While the document deals explicitly with the legacy of sectarianism, religious and political division and ethnic and racial divisions, the values which it promotes have implications for everyone. Most importantly it sets a decisive direction for Northern Ireland in which all of these issues can be tackled. It is essential, even in the absence of devolution that this direction is set and that we get tough on hate crime and tough on the causes of hate crime.