Why are hate crimes at record levels in the UK?

With hate crimes at record levels, we need to look beyond Brexit & recent terror attacks to fully understand exactly what is going on

Advertisements

ChrisAllen

Chris Allen is Associate Professor in Hate Studies at the University of Leicester. For almost two decades, he has been at the forefront of research into Islamophobic and extremist hate.

 

Levels of hate crime in the UK have been on an upward trajectory over the past few years. None more so than in 2016-17 when overall numbers increased by 29%: the largest annual increase since records began. During this same period of time, the number of racially and religiously-motivated hate crimes recorded reached record levels. As we enter National Hate Crime Awareness Week, this article offers an explanation for these previously unprecedented levels.

For the Government, recent annual increases are ‘likely’ due to improved awareness, better recording, and a greater willingness of victims to come forward. Given 2016-7’s record levels however, this explanation appears simplistic. While likely to result in a greater number of recorded crimes, there would have had to have been extremely significant improvements for that to have translated into a 29% overall increase. Improvements alone also fail to explain record levels of racially and religiously-motivated hate crimes.

As regards the latter, 2016-7 was notable given how certain events duly impacted the levels of hate crime recorded. The first of these was the Brexit referendum. While ‘Leave’ campaigners have since refuted claims that the referendum catalysed a sharp increase in the levels of hate crime in the days and weeks that followed, official data shows that in the 11 month period following the vote hate crimes surged by 23%. Interesting about this was the unprecedented targeting of white Eastern Europeans, anomalous in the British context where racially-motivated hate crime has historically targeted non-white minorities.

Also unique to 2016-7 were the number and scale of terror incidents in the UK. As the official data illustrated, following each incident – in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge, Finsbury Park and Parsons Green – there was a sharp increase in the number of hate crimes recorded. Noting how this has been a pattern dating back to the 9/11 terror attacks, both research and third-party data from Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) confer legitimacy on the notion that these backlashes are undertaken on the basis of exacting ‘revenge’ against Muslims and their communities. It might be assumed that this would go some way to explaining the record levels of religiously-motivated hate crime.

While the Brexit referendum and number of terror incidents go some way to explaining the size of the increase in 2016-7, they fail to account for the year on year rises. To better understand this, it is necessary to take a broader perspective, one that considers how the socio-political landscape of the UK has changed and developed. For Poynting and Perry, this is important as socio-political landscapes can create climates which bestow ‘permission’ to hate and by consequence, enact hate crime. As they go on, this occurs when political actors and political mechanisms function to dichotomously demarcate ‘us’ from ‘them’: actively constructing ‘Others’ that are indeterminably and unequivocally oppositional, fear inducing and threatening.

This – according to Abrams and Travaglino – was evident in the discourses and rhetoric of Leave campaigners. Building on decades of various political actors routinely and repeatedly demarcating ‘immigrants’ as ‘Others’, Leave campaigners ratified the argument that had been premised many years beforehand that halting immigration – made possible by leaving the EU – would provide a ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’: nullifying the threat posed to ‘us’ by ‘them’. Allen and Young argue that the Brexit referendum achieved this by functioning as a political mechanism that conferred legitimacy on who could and who could not belong: politically and conceptually constructing an ‘us’ from ‘them’ in that it immediately functioned to demarcate who Britain could be ‘home’ for from those it could not. While the referendum was a one-off in this respect, it contributed towards – and fed into – the ongoing construction of a climate that was hospitable to being hateful and by consequence, enacting that hatefulness also.

2017’s unprecedented number of terror attacks can also be contextualized within that process of dichotomously demarcating ‘us’ from ‘them’ that in turn, feeds the construction of a climate that is permissible to hate. This can be seen in how for more than a decade in the UK – at least since the 7/7 terror attacks on the London public transport system in 2005 – political actors have repeatedly identified ‘Muslims’ and ‘Islam’ as problematic ‘Others’ both of which pose something of an existential threat to ‘our’ culture, values and way of life. Attributing all Muslims without differentiation the same attributes and capabilities, it is no surprise that Muslims have become repeat and indiscriminate victims of hate after every terror incident. As Poynting and Perry argue, the hospitable climate constructed by political actors and political mechanisms alike provide a ‘guide to action’ for the willing. For some at least, exacting ‘revenge’ on all and any Muslim can therefore be seen to be justified.

While 2016-7 was therefore notable, to fully understand why the levels of hate crime increased so significantly and why numbers continue to rise year on year it is necessary to look beyond those anomalous events to the socio-political landscape that has emerged and developed in the UK over the past decade or so. In doing so, it is possible to see how a hospitable climate has been established that not only bestows permission to hate but worryingly, permission to engage in hate crime: to justify the use of violence against those deemed to be ‘different’.

With this in mind, it is highly likely that hate crime numbers will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. Noting the concerns of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services – the UK’s police watchdog – the UK’s formal exit from the EU in 2019 is likely to catalyse even more hate and by consequence, more hate crime. Add in the potential for further terror attacks, the reality of political actors further adopting nationalistic and jingoistic discourses of ‘us’ and ‘them’, as also the growing threat posed by the extreme right-wing and the future looks increasingly bleak as does the UK’s socio-political landscape.

 

For further links please see the website of the Centre for Hate Studies

 

 

Contact

Chris Allen, Associate Professor, Centre for Hate Studies, University of Leicester

Email: chris.allen@leicester.ac.uk

Twitter: @DrChrisAllen

Website: www.drchrisallen.uk

 

Copyright free images courtesy of author and Wikimedia Commons

‘Not in my backyard’: Brexit and the myths of transnational organised crime

Brexit will make for a weaker and more isolated Britain. That translates in more opportunities for profits and investments for transnational criminal networks – and will be a nightmare for national law enforcement agencies.

Brexit_Sergi

A Sergi

Anna Sergi is Lecturer in Criminology and Deputy Director of the Centre for Criminology at the University of Essex, UK. She is an International Visiting Fellow at the University of Melbourne, Australia and Chair of the Early Career Researchers Network of the British Society of Criminology.

 

Brexit is fast approaching and the language of security – with words like risk, threat and harm floating around in political discourses on justice and border control – helps confusing an already confused scenario of what exactly is Great Britain without the EU going to look like. Particularly, the language of security is made to echo immediacy and a sense of urgency in solving a problem that is going to affect all of us and with potentially alarming consequences. In the midst of political confusion in what Brexit will mean for the UK’s shores– especially in terms of agreements for cooperation and border control – the old adagio that sees migration as quintessential contribution to insecurity can easily resurface. In other words, the idea that – by closing our borders – we will keep out potential terrorists and transnational drug traffickers, is tempting and apparently intuitive. And yet it is a superficial and incorrect concept, as it is based on mistaken premises.

The assumptions on the links between terrorism – international terrorism – and migration from Islamic countries has been proven wrong by recent events: terror attacks in Paris and London in the past years have confirmed that perpetrators, even when they are of Islamic faiths, are usually born and bred in the country and radicalised at a later stage. Thus, even in the public domain, the fear and the following stigmatisation of Muslim migrants – current and future – seem today easier to dispute. This, however, is also the result of the visibility of terrorism, when events like the London Bridge attack of 3rd of June 2017 – which counted 8 deaths in total – dominated the news for weeks, offering the public all the details about the offenders’ past and actions. Such visibility, instead, doesn’t complement the news on much more frequent criminal activities, of serious, often transnational, and organised crime, such as drug or human trafficking, counterfeiting and/or smuggling. Organised criminal groups, however, not only benefit from this lack of visibility – as they arguably appreciate being under the radar – and will be benefitting from Brexit the most.

Indeed, myths can be debunked when it comes to organised crime and the impending exit of the UK from the European Union. The first myth relates to cross-border crime, and, as seen before, relies on the argument that with stricter border control and isolation we can disrupt trafficking and smuggling activities. This could be partially true if we were in a situation where trafficking and smuggling only happened because of the porosity of borders. This however is not true, as organised crime activities are heavily dependent, amongst other things, on market rules of offer and demand. Therefore the border – and the overcoming of border controls – is factored in the business risk. This is why isolation and increased border controls only make the business risk grow – by making it more difficult to cross the border unchecked – and the cost of an increased business risk are not born by the traffickers/smugglers, but by the clients or the victims. In other words, in a cocaine trafficking scenario, cocaine will end up costing more on the streets, because traffickers have to match the increased risk of shipping it into an isolated country, where, however, demand is not likely to decline. Learning from the experience in other countries – namely Australia for example – an option to avoid the inflation of drug costs on the street will be shipping lower quality drugs as well or developing drugs locally produced. In all accounts, however, the increased business risk paired with the usual demands leads to the possibility to increase profits: if cocaine is going to be more expensive in the UK, but demand is not falling, then the UK will become an attractive place to do business. In this sense, Brexit will not only not decrease the availability of (transnationally-shipped) drug, but will also increase profits for organised crime groups. Great Britain needs to be able to work with partners towards international cooperation in policing – which Brexit also threatens – in order to understand how criminal networks work across global routes and how best to intervene to disrupt them.

There is another myth as well which relies on the nature of contemporary organised crime, as a threat to national security in the form of transnational networks and not so much as a local issue. While it is obvious that some (organised) crimes are transnational, the nature of organised crime in Great Britain is certainly not just transnational, as, arguably, it has always been very local instead.  Organised crime networks in different parts of the UK can be both “heavy” organisations, structured and “organised”, but also “lighter” organisations, based on opportunistic network ties, occasional cooperation and easier involvement for willing participants. If we consider organised crime as a socio-behavioural model of doing crime, rooted in networks and (sub)cultural values, it follows that together with fighting networks that operate cross border, policies must consider how organised crime activities and actors are extremely linked to local environments, changes and structures and social, economic and cultural levels. This line of thought re-establishes organised crime as a very British problem, that isolation and border control are not likely to affect in the way certain political factions would like, i.e. by reducing it.

With concerns linked to the City of London becoming the ‘laundry of choice’ of different criminal groups, both local and foreign, political parties have repeatedly called for a review of regulations. With the advent of Brexit, and with the possible changes in transparency regulations now set out by the EU, this concern becomes even more real. When it comes to understanding and policing organised crime, together with many other threats the UK considers national security concerns, we must therefore conclude that Brexit would only make for a weaker and more isolated Britain. That translates in more opportunities for profit and investments for transnational criminal networks – and will be a nightmare for national law enforcement agencies.

Contact

Anna Sergi, Lecturer in Criminology and Deputy Director of the Centre for Criminology, University of Essex –  asergi@essex.ac.uk@annasergi
https://www.essex.ac.uk/people/sergi58502/anna-sergi

Copyright free images: from author