The more we talk, the more we break down prejudice

There has never felt like a more important time for a hate crime conference.

The awful events at last week’s England vs Bulgaria game, in which racist insults many of us assumed were a thing of the past were hurled at our black players, served as a sharp reminder that these problems are very much still with us.

Closer to home, it was very disappointing to see Yeovil Town’s FA Cup game against Haringey Borough abandoned over the weekend amid reports of racial abuse.

We also had the news that hate crime rose nationally by 10% last year, making 2018-19 a record year for the number of crimes reported to the police.

And the ongoing debate around Brexit continues to create an increasingly febrile and intolerant atmosphere across the UK.

All of this made Prejudice Free Dorset’s No Place For Hate event at the Bournemouth International Centre all the more poignant.

 

It was wonderful to see hundreds of people from a wide range of organisations across the county come together to talk about what can be done about the problem.

We heard people’s experiences of hate crime in Dorset, from members of the county’s Muslim and Jewish communities, along with travellers, members of the LGBT community and people with disabilities.

And we heard a moving account from Sophie Cook, about her experiences of transgender hate crime.

Despite being an author, RAF veteran, Parliamentary candidate and the first transgender woman to work in the Premier League – as official photographer to AFC Bournemouth, Sophie opened with the incredible words that could have summed up the day’s message: “I’m nothing special. I don’t deserve your praise. But I don’t deserve your hate either.”

We also heard from Dr Jane Healy and Dr James Palfreman-Kay, who told us about the important work taking place at Bournemouth University to support students who experience hate crime and to encourage them to report incidents. This included some very powerful short films made by students.

 

Supt Gavin Duffield, Dorset Police’s new lead for hate crime, spoke about the huge amount of work  taking place to oversee how the Force deals with this issue, including one long-standing plan of my own – to set up an Office Of The Police and Crime Commissioner independent scrutiny panel to look into hate crime.

And Chief Constable James Vaughan talked about the Force’s recruitment drive and the urgent need for people from a much wider range of backgrounds to be represented, not just by Dorset Police but by forces around the country. 

But the most important message from the day was Prejudice Free Dorset’s Hate Crime Charter, introduced by James, which sets out the commitment of organisations and individuals across the county to work together to tackle this problem.

The Charter sets out how, by setting common goals and standards, we aim to provide a consistent approach.

We want to make sure the impact of hate crime is fully understood by everyone, and encourage anyone who has experienced it – either as a victim or as a witness – to come forward. Finally, the Charter sets out how we can keep talking to make sure everyone across our communities knows the best ways to support victims.

The event ended with attendees making personal pledges setting out one thing they will do differently. My pledge came from one of our speakers “the more we talk, the more we break down prejudice”

Hate crime isn’t something we will crack overnight – it is a complicated and deeply ingrained problem which is on the rise and we’ve got a long way to go.

But we need to start by holding more conversations, bringing people together, and this week’s conference certainly did that.   

There were many inspirational speakers at the event – far too many to mention here – but I want to close with the words of Sophie Cook, who said: “Anything is possible, and events like this prove it.”

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