Alison Hernandez: Why it’s more important than ever to call out hatred in our communities

PUBLISHED: 12:09 20 October 2020

Exmouth Pride Festival. Photo: Simon Horn

Exmouth Pride Festival. Photo: Simon Horn


In her latest column, police and crime commissioner Alison Hernandez writes about the importance to call out hatred

Recent figures show there has been a small but worrying increase in reported incidents of hate crime in Devon and Cornwall.

Between June 2019 and May 2020, the force received 1,856 reports of hate crimes, the vast majority of which were race related. This compares to 1,800 from the same period the year before.

The area with the highest number of recorded reports was Plymouth with 545, followed by South Devon with 393, Exeter, East and Mid Devon with 347, West Cornwall with 216, East Cornwall with 185 and North and West Devon with 163.

A separate report from disability charities Leonard Cheshire and United Response also shows a 20 per cent increase in reported disability hate crimes in Devon and Cornwall.

To understand these figures fully, it’s important we first understand exactly what a hate crime is.

The definition of a hate crime is any offence which is perceived by the victim - or any other person - to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on an aspect someone’s identity.

These aspects are known as ‘protected characteristics’ and fall into six main categories: disability, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity.

Hate crimes can include threatening behaviour, assault, robbery damage to property, inciting others to commit hate crimes and harassment.

As with everything, Covid has had an effect on this issue – particularly at the start of the pandemic when at least six attacks on Asian people in Exeter were reported to Devon and Cornwall Police.

One victim, a 19-year-old Chinese university student, was told ‘go back to your own country – you must have coronavirus’ before being punched, kicked, spat at and threatened with a knife.

This abhorrent crime and its equally abhorrent perpetrators are the precise reason we need to raise awareness of hate crime.

Physically attacking anyone in this manner is completely unacceptable, but when that attack is motivated solely by someone’s ethnicity it reaches a whole new level of despicable.

However, while Covid may have prompted a small number of hate crimes in our region, in other ways it has brought the communities of Devon and Cornwall closer together.

No-one will ever forget the heart-warming scenes as entire streets came out to clap, cheer and bang pots and pans in support of our amazing key workers.

The pandemic has also given rise to a great amount of community spirit with towns, villages and streets joining forces to look out for vulnerable neighbours by helping with shopping, collecting prescriptions and alleviating social isolation.

Over the years our office has been heavily involved in Pride events across the region, diversity festivals and Blue Light Days for those with learning disability – and we will continue to support such events again when they resume.

It’s also important to say that while the rise in reported hate crimes in Devon and Cornwall is certainly something that needs addressing, it is also very positive because it indicates that more victims have greater confidence to call the authorities and seek help.

While it may feel as though the coronavirus pandemic will never end, one day in the hopefully-not-too-distant future it will. And when it does, I hope we can all remember that amazing spirit of tolerance, acceptance, kindness and respect – because those are the foundations on which great communities are built.

You can report hate crime in a number of different ways: to the police, online using the hate crime / incident reporting form, call 101 - the force’s non-emergency number or report the problem to your local police station or local policing team.

If it is an emergency where life is threatened, people are injured or offenders are nearby and an urgent response is required, ring 999.

If you are seeking information or reporting an incident on behalf of a friend or member of the family whose first language is not English please let us know and we will arrange for an interpreter to be present if appropriate.

Devon and Cornwall Police use Deafinite interpreters which allows us to gain access to BSL interpreters so please if you need us be assured we will take the time to understand what happened.

It is important that hate crime is reported otherwise the police are unable to do anything about it and to change the type of behaviour involved.

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