If you saw a racist attack take place in public, would you know what to do?
Racism and racist abuse has been at the centre of public debate this week after a video emerged of an elderly black woman from East London being racially abused by a fellow passenger on board a Ryanair flight.
It can be difficult to know what the right course of action is for bystanders who want to help – if you witness an incident, you might find yourself unsure of who to alert or how to intervene without aggravating the situation.
There were 62,685 racist hate crimes in 2016-17 – making up 78 per cent of all hate crimes recorded by the police. The Home Office’s annual report described a “clear spike” in race and religiously-motivated hate crimes around the time of the 2016 EU referendum, but the number of racial and religious hate crimes recorded has been rising steadily each year since 2011.
HuffPost UK compiled guidance on the steps you can take to support the victim and manage the situation safely.
What Constitutes Racist Abuse?
Citizens Advice says racist hate incidents are acts of hostility or violence that are felt by the victim, or by anyone else, to be on the basis of race.
- Verbal abuse – like insults and slurs
- Physical abuse
- Threatening behaviour more generally
- Online abuse
- Damage to property.
When Should I Report Racism?
Incidents differ in how they are categorised by the police, but if you witness any of the behaviours listed above and believe they were made it was on the grounds of race, you should consider reporting them.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission told HuffPost UK that reporting has wider benefits beyond resolving the incident itself. “Increased reporting will lead to greater awareness of the issue, and help support more prosecutions,” a spokesperson said.
How Do I Report A Racist Incident?
If you witness racism out and about in public (on the street, in a shop) and feel it is an emergency, call 999. Speak to the police, or to emergency services if you’ve witnessed a violent attack in which the victim requires urgent medical attention. It’s also worth calling 999 if you see an incident that you think might escalate into something serious.
You can report racist abuse to the police following the incident too – making sure to tell them that you think the abuse was on the basis of race.
You can go direct or use an online reporting form like True Vision. The Citizens’ Advice Bureau can also support you in the process of reporting.
Should I Gather Evidence?
The video of the Ryanair incident, captured by fellow passenger David Lawrence, is a good example of a bystander collecting evidence safely and from a distance.
Childline suggests it can be useful to make note of details of the incident, as you may need to provide evidence to the police.
Should I Reach Out To The Victim?
A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that victims of racist abuse generally felt alone, vulnerable, and unsupported following the incident itself. The Royal College of Psychologists also says that racism and racial discrimination “is one of many factors which can have a significant, negative impact on a person’s life chances and mental health.”
Consider offering words and actions that show your support in the short-term, while always considering the safety of both yourself and the victim. Tell MAMA, an organisation that measures anti-Muslim hate, advises sitting with the victim to provide reassurance if you can.
How Can I Challenge Racism When I See It?
Iman Atta OBE, Tell MAMA’s director, advises that we work collectively to tackle racist abuse when we see it, by taking steps like telling the perpetrator to stop, if you feel it is safe to do so.
Iman says that if you find yourself in a position of authority when and where a racist incident takes place – for example as a staff member – you should make sure to prioritise the needs of the victim over the perpetrator. “The actions of Ryanair staff were tantamount to appeasing the perpetrator and further victimising the victim,” she said.
“There is no room for appeasement towards racists and bigots. People have to be clear that racist statements will be challenged and racists refused the opportunity to fly if they abuse other passengers. It is as simple as that.”