DON’T JAIL TWEETERS – THAT’S NOT WHERE THE REAL RACIST PROBLEM LIES
The criminal justice system is targeting racist individuals while endemic discrimination in Britain is allowed to prosper…
So, just 10 days after tweeting vile racist abuse about footballer Fabrice Muamba, student Liam Stacey has been jailed. A victory, and instant justice, in the fight against racism. A sign of how Britain has changed in this new post-racial nation we live in. “Tweet justice,”says the Sun newspaper headline. “LOL Ha-Ha!”
Well, hold on. Am I the only one to think that 56 days in jail for a drunken rant, despicable though it was – so noxious, in fact, that no newspaper has the stomach to publish it – is a bit severe? Yes, punish him; but if he is to change his behaviour, which we all want to see, he hardly needs a sentence of this length. I’d be happy to see him do some community work, where he might come into contact with some of those he currently dehumanises.
At the moment, it seems, the criminal justice system is unleashing all its energy on the little guys. Twitterers, train ranters, even footballers – for venting their emotions in public. These are all issues which, a few years ago, would have gone mostly unnoticed by all but the victims. Now, though, these incidents are likely to be recorded, replayed, retweeted, stuck on YouTube and viewed by millions. And the state seems keen to go after these “quick wins” to try to claim that racism will no longer be tolerated.
I know how unpleasant racial abuse can be: as a child I was regularly insulted, sometimes assaulted, by passers-by in the street hurling racial epithets. They knew they could get away with it, and I never thought to report a “racial incident” to the police – there was no chance they’d have done anything about it. (Later, as a student, I had bricks thrown through my window wrapped in paper covered with Nazi slogans. I reported that: the police did next to nothing.)
But to me, the sad individuals who vent their emotions this way have never been the real problem: they’re mostly uneducated, they hold little real power over me, and the threat they pose is minimal. By contrast, the people who actually go out organising, who form political organisations pledged to ethnically cleanse the country, forcing me and my family out, are the real danger. And they seem to get away with everything.
Back in the 1970s, I remember the leading National Front activist, John Kingsley Read, being cleared of incitement to racial hatred even though, in a speech, he said such things as: “Last week in Southall, one nigger stabbed another nigger. Very unfortunate. One down, a million to go.”
Of course that was a long time ago; but in 2006 BNP leader Nick Griffin was cleared of a similar charge despite a speech describing Islam as a “wicked, vicious faith” and saying Muslims were turning Britain into a “multi-racial hell hole”. His co-accused, Mark Collett, who’d said, “Let’s show these ethnics the door,” was also cleared. Three years later, voters in north-west England elected Griffin their MEP; and, within months, his acceptance into the mainsteam was sealed when the BBC invited him on to their Question Time panel.
Ed Balls, when education secretary, even thought it was OK for BNP members to be teaching in our classrooms.
Today the BNP is seemingly in decline, but their ideas are not. And the English Defence League has picked up the baton. Their demonstrations are not banned, despite taking place in some of the most ethnically sensitive parts of the country. And this weekend they’ll be joining fellow European extremists for a hate fest in Denmark.
But it’s not just the extremists who are the problem. The views of prejudice and intolerance creep into the discourse daily – be it from the media, or from politicians. The BNP may question my right to remain in this country, but mainstream leaders have jumped on the bandwagon. When David Cameron attacks multiculturalism, he challenges the right of those with roots outside this country to believe what they want, to speak how they want, and to dress how they want.
When the news media report on immigration – almost always in the context of abuses, or tough talk on clampdowns – it is, without fail, accompanied by images of black or Asian people, even though many of them were probably born here.
So, daily, racial minorities are reminded that they don’t quite fit in this country, and are told to adhere to rules and values that many white British people would never accept. This is what truly has an impact, and fuels the prejudice and discrimination which blights so many lives.
And whether you give drunken tweeters 56 days, or five years, or a life behind bars, it doesn’t address the fact that the real racial abuses, the real peddlars of hate in this country, are going about their business with no fear of being held to account.