Over the last nine days my colleagues and I at Tell MAMA – an organisation which supports victims of anti-Muslim hatred – have been subjected to some of the worst harassment on our telephone lines in the four years since we first started. The extent of the racist, sexist and anti-Muslim abuse we have received has left the organisation unable to function. My colleagues have been subjected to monkey noises, abuse and general intimidation.
I founded the organisation in 2012 to map, measure and monitor anti-Muslim hatred, as well as to support victims. Since then we’ve seen clear patterns in anti-Muslim hate incidents, with large peaks and troughs, which should worry those of us who work in, and care about, social cohesion. For example, in the seven days after the EU referendum vote, we received reports of more than 185 anti-Muslim hate and racist incidents, a significant and measurable spike across the country.
Over the years, the organisation has worked with numerous police forces in England, Wales and Scotland and has come across hundreds of committed officers who have worked tirelessly and within limited resources to get justice for victims. These officers have made a difference to many people’s lives and have been real heroes in communities. Underpaid and overworked, they are the backbone of public service in our country.
But sadly, in four years spent wading through what I can only describe as a cesspit of hatred, the Metropolitan police has turned out to be the weakest link in our work.
We are based in London, and on numerous occasions I have asked for a risk assessment to be made regarding Tell MAMA and its staff – a request which became particularly pressing after the killing of Jo Cox. I made clear that any assessment should take into account firstly the specific threats, intimidation and harassment against us, which we have reported to the police; secondly the fact we are a high profile project and consistently targeted; and thirdly that the context of the environment in which we work has changed after the recent incidents.
The response from the Met was jaw-dropping. Not only did it transpire that they had lost numerous call logs we had made of incidents since 2012, their threat assessment regarding Tell MAMA and its staff was that we were considered “low risk”. If this is the case, I can only imagine what counts as “high risk”.
When we first started the project in early 2012, cases we sent through to the Met sat on an officer’s computer for five months – apparently he simply did not know what to do with them. After numerous complaints from me about the cases, the officer apologised and the Met decided to set up a protocol by which they would liaise with us. It turned out that an officer entrusted with dealing with the cases we reported, which were sent to him as our local force contact, were never to see the light of day. They were “lost in the system”.
We’ve had the experience of trying to report cases to the police on behalf of victims, only to be told by Met call handlers that the victims themselves must call, which shows they simply are not aware of third party hate crime reporting agencies. When Met officers have come to see us, to take down evidence from victims of anti-Muslim hate who have been abused on Twitter, the police have said they do not use social media and have no clue how Twitter works. These are not isolated incidents – the Met has real issues when it comes to frontline officers understanding how social media works, the impact on individuals and theapplication of laws in relation to online hate incidents. Training in these areas is crucial if the Met is to maintain the confidence of victims.
Last week, when police visited to take down our statements on the malicious calls, they did not secure evidence of the recordings of the calls. They also failed to keep us informed of developments until the Guardian ran an article on the harassment we’ve been experiencing and the lack of appropriate support from the police. Which brings me on to the fact that victims repeatedly tell us that having reported to the Met, they never hear back about developments in their cases.
I have come into contact with some fantastic officers in the Met, and value their integrity, perseverance and diligence in securing convictions. But as hate crimes soar after Brexit and communities start to feel a growing sense of unease, the Met must step up and address some of these issues. If it cannot maintain our confidence, how will it win over those who are sceptical about reporting crimes committed against them, and especially those from Muslim communities who are fearful of authority and law enforcement?
As Lord Sacks, the former chief rabbi, once said, “antisemitism is a light sleeper”. This means hate and prejudice is latent and is activated by events and triggers – most recently, Brexit. Hate can mutate and change and none of us can afford to disregard this abuse, as the targeting of specific groups continues. While Muslims, migrants and travellers are the targets today, it will be another community tomorrow.
The Met told the Guardian: “We are currently investigating this allegation that has been reported in the last two weeks and are engaging with Tell MAMA about how we can assist them.”