Race, Crime and Punishment Spotlight


Race, Crime and Punishment

Hard-hitting investigations. Why are so many perpetrators of the rising tide of racial offences in the country appearing to escape justice?


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Transcript


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For people from ethnic minority backgrounds

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this has been a long, uncomfortable summer.

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In the last five months, there have been more racial offences

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in Northern Ireland than there were for the whole of last year.

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Racial attacks aren?t just increasing.

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They are rocketing to levels that are taking the authorities

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by surprise.

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No matter how you look at these figures they are deeply

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worrying, there is a deep sense of intolerance throughout

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the city that has to be addressed.

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Some victims have been high-profile.

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I am only human. When people make comments like that,

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of course it?s offensive, it hurts.

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Others have been thrust into the media glare.

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But can they expect justice?

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Tonight on Spotlight, we investigate why it is that against a huge rise

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in racist offences, we don?t appear to be punishing perpetrators for the

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racist elements of their crimes.

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There is not a single racist attack where the sentence was increased

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that you can give me an example of.

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Well, I think that, we certainly have one example.

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One though.

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Yes.

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The Belfast Mela.

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Over the last few years it?s become a celebration of a new diversity

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in Northern Ireland.

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Today, 25,000 people have turned out to celebrate the many cultures

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that now call this place home.

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Its founder and organiser is Nisha Tandon,

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This is a very different image of Belfast than we?ve seen over

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the summer where we?ve seen some pretty high profile racist attacks.

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Yes, that?s right, and it just makes your heart break

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when you see that there are some positive things going on today and

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there are just these small elements who try to not sort of embrace any

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other culture living beside them.

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Over the last four months, the number of racist incidents recorded

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by police has increased massively.

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And Nisha Tandon recently said she would consider leaving

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Northern Ireland because of a growing climate of racism.

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Have you had any racial incidents happen to you?

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Recently there was an incident and that was I was carrying these two

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bags to go home and there were these two young people who just said you

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need to go home and I said, listen, I am going home and he said, but

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that?s a long flight and I said, it?s not a long flight,

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it?s just round the corner.

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How did you feel when these two young men... You have

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been living in Northern Ireland for longer than they have been alive,

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and they?re telling you to go home.

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How does that make you feel?

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I just feel they need to be taught, they need to be given that...

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If you are black, brown, yellow, it doesn?t really make any difference.

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But to some people, it clearly does.

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These are the statistics for this summer given to us by the police.

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And they show that in the last five months alone there have been more

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racist offences recorded in Northern Ireland than over

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the whole of the previous year.

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A lot more.

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You went to a hostel.

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A hostel, yeah.

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Because the police couldn?t guarantee

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your safety in East Belfast.

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Yeah.

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Since April there have been 431 racial offences recorded by

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the police across Northern Ireland.

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Over the whole of the previous year there were 263.

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That?s already an increase of 64% on last year.

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And when you look at what?s happening in certain parts

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of Belfast, the picture is even more worrying.

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And much of the rise across Northern Ireland seems to be driven by what?s

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happening in parts of the capital.

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The new hotspot for racial offences is north Belfast, where this summer

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there has been a staggering 276% rise in racially-motivated offences

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recorded by the police.

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East Belfast has traditionally been seen as a problem area

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for race attacks, and there has been an increase there

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of 134% since last year.

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And this isn?t just a problem in loyalist areas.

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West Belfast has also seen a big jump in racial offences, of 110%.

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South Belfast saw the smallest increase, but it was

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still significant, at 24%.

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Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr is in charge of the police operation

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to clamp down on racist incidents.

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No matter how you look at these figures they are deeply

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worrying, there is a deep sense of intolerance throughout

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the city that has to be addressed.

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And what is behind this?

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Some communities perceive there is a loss of single identity.

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Some a displacement of political or social concerns

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particularly housing.

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Some is just about thuggery and control of a local area.

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The summer got off to a tempestuous start.

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Pastor James McConnell of the Whitewell metropolitan

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Tabernacle made a highly controversial speech about Islam.

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Islam is heathen.

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Islam is Satanic.

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Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.

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Amidst the criticism, the First Minister Peter Robinson

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decided to defend Pastor McConnell.

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I wouldn?t trust Muslims who are bombing and shooting.

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However, there are many of the normal daily

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activities of life that I would have no difficulty in trusting a Muslim

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to do, to go down to the shop for me, to give me the right change.

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Both Pastor McConnell and Peter Robinson later clarified their

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comments, and apologised to Muslims.

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But to Alliance MLA Anna Lo, the damage had been done.

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She threatened to leave Northern Ireland because she felt

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the lack of political leadership on hate crime, which she herself

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was experiencing, made it a cold house for ethnic minorities.

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I do feel vulnerable, walking on the street, because I

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know ethnic minorities... I know that ethnic minorities have

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been attacked and I know that when I feel vulnerable that when I walk on

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the street that I may be attacked.

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For Anna Lo, the defence of Pastor McConnell

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by high-profile political leaders gave a disturbing insight into

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public life in Northern Ireland.

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For Peter Robinson to come out in defence

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of the preacher McConnell, that would not have happened in

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other political parties in the UK.

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Anybody who is associated with his comments, I think would have seen

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a public outcry, or their own party disowning them and they would be out

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of politics.

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In early June there was another high-profile incident.

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A Nigerian man, Michael Abiona, was prevented from moving

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into a housing executive bungalow in Glenluce Drive in East Belfast

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by a group of protestors who stood outside with banners calling

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for local houses for local people.

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Michael Abiona believes that the incident was racist.

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Actions speak louder than words.

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So if it had been a white man that had gone in I am quite sure

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they would not have done that.

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The case prompted another intervention by Peter Robinson.

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This time he said that he believed that the case wasn?t necessarily

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racist, but more likely a local housing dispute.

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The First Minister has his own opinion, it was the way he felt, but

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I believe the majority who either listen or hear about the story

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didn?t feel the way he felt.

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Once again, Peter Robinson went on to

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clarify his remarks, acknowledging that what happened was being treated

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as a hate incident by the PSNI.

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I think the police will judge whether it was intimidation or

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whether it was peaceful protest.

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Dr Robbie McVeigh has written two major reports into racism

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in Northern Ireland.

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He feels that the First Minister?s interventions showed a lack of

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understanding of how victims feel.

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The bottom line should be that he should be listening to how difficult

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it is to be a black and minority ethnic person in this country

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and responding to that, rather than deciding that he can make a decision

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around whether what a minister says or local resident says is racist,

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that?s the wrong way to do it.

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We asked Peter Robinson for an interview for this programme.

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He declined.

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So did the deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness.

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They did send us a joint statement, which said, we unreservedly condemn

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race hate crimes and all forms of intimidation.

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It is in all our interests that people from

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minority ethnic backgrounds have a sense of belonging and know that

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their place in society is valued.

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By working together we can ensure all people

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in our community are treated fairly and show we welcome the diversity

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which enhances all our lives.

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The big question posed by a summer of spiralling race hate

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incidents, is how prepared we are in Northern Ireland to support

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the victims of those incidents.

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And not just politically.

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There are also major questions over how our criminal justice system

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processes offences which victims believe to be racially-motivated.

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It?s early morning near Royal Avenue in the heart of the city.

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This is Musa Gulusen.

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And this is his daily ritual.

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Every morning Musa sets up his stall where he sells everything

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from loom bands to leather belts.

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You build this every morning.

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Every morning, this is my job.

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So do you have a license to operate here?

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Yeah, I have a license and every month I pay ?188.

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And how long have you had a stall on Royal Avenue?

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About 20 years.

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Musa says the vast majority of people he interacts with on a daily

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basis, from customers to passers-by, are pleasant and supportive of him.

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But not everyone.

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Say, on an average day, do you have people saying racist things to you?

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Every day to be honest with you, every day, a couple of times.

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Every day.

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And what do you mean, people saying things.

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People say like Taxi and walk away but I am laughing, I am laughing.

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And sometimes it gets more serious than name calling.

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On the 11th June this year, Musa was attacked and robbed.

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The initial attack happened here at his stall in full view

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of horrified shoppers.

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Musa says the attackers allegedly stole ?120 and left him

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with bruises and a broken wrist.

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And they broke your arm?

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Broke my arms, yes.

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I see you have still got the...?

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Yup.

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Obviously that is very serious, has it ever happened before?

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Once before yes, about three years ago,

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it is the physical attacks and again Christmas time, not last Christmas,

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last Christmas before again.

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I mean, Musa, that is starting to sound like it's

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happening on a regular basis.

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I know, but that is just eejit people.

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Why do you believe that it was a racial attack?

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Because they called me straight to my face, "Taxi bustard".

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I don't know him, he doesn't know me.

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The police are currently investigating Musa's case.

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We made two arrests at the time and obviously

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as with all these cases, we have got to gather the evidence, present it

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to the Public Prosecution Service.

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It will be up to the Public Prosecution Service to decide

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if there is enough evidence in Musa's case to prove that it was

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in fact a racially motivated crime.

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And even if Musa thinks it is, that doesn't mean the criminal justice

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system will deal with it that way.

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Barra McGrory is the Director of Public Prosecutions.

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He says that proving any particular attack is in fact racist,

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is not easy.

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It's difficult to identify the race element formally

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in court because that must be proved to the criminal standard

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beyond all reasonable doubt.

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That's what the law says, now that brings a significant number

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of difficulties.

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Jolena Flett has been working with people

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from ethnic minority backgrounds in Northern Ireland for a decade.

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In that time she's seen many crimes that victims believe to be racist go

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through the court system only for the racist element to be dropped.

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So we have had cases where people will be the victim of

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the racist crime, that they believe has been racially motivated.

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If it goes to the courts, it will often be prosecuted

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as maybe an assault but without a racial element because that

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conviction is easier to secure.

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There is no easy opportunity to identify

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the race element formally in court.

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Surely therefore that is a broken system?

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Well it's the law, it's the way it is framed and certainly the policy

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makers and law makers on these issues may want to revisit this.

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For ethnic minorities living in Northern Ireland,

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it's not a new complaint.

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In fact, its ten years since one major case

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where race was first alleged to be a factor, and then dropped.

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Brij Sharma was a popular businessman who ran a shop

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on a peaceline in North Belfast.

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He had come to Northern Ireland when he was 10 years old.

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I consider myself to be Northern Irish.

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When it comes to asking me where my home is, this is my home.

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The BBC had interviewed him about his life on the front line

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of a divided society, when he described how at times, he

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would be subjected to racist abuse.

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Getting abuse from the ones that you grew up with, especially the ones

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you know, that's very hurtful.

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In May 2004 Brij Sharma was attacked.

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Police witness statements from the time spoke of racial abuse

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being hurled during the incident.

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Brij Sharma was killed in the attack.

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Today, his brother Bharat is the chairman of the

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Indian Community centre in Belfast.

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He believes that what happened was racially motivated.

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Now, at the time and still you are convinced that this was

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a racially motivated attack?

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Definitely, without a doubt.

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But that's not what the criminal justice system said

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Yes, but part of the criminal justice system, the PSNI had made

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the case and prepared the file for the culprits on a murder

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charge, racially motivated murder.

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So the police said there was a racial element?

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But Brij Sharma had had a previous disagreement with one

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of his attackers.

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And that was the reason given in court that the case wasn't

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prosecuted as a racist incident.

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Bharat Sharma feels the racial element was swept under the carpet.

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Why are you so confident that it was a racial incident?

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The police had told us that there were lots of statements

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from the witnesses. These brothers had only one motive.

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They, in their shouting and abusing they had said, "we wanted

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to teach this Taxi a lesson".

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Bharat Sharma now feels like his brother's death could have

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been a crucial moment for the prosecution of race-hate

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crime in Northern Ireland.

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So you felt this could be a watershed moment here in

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Northern Ireland for race crime?

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Yes.

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Especially with the person losing their life.

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And we felt so strongly, equally on par to Stephen Lawrence's case.

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Stephen Lawrence was murdered in London in 1993 in a racist attack

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that was to send shockwaves through the criminal justice system.

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A major report, by Sir William MacPherson into the

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killing said that the metropolitan police force had mishandled the case

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because Stephen Lawrence was black.

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The McPherson report led to reforms of the Metropolitan Police,

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and the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales.

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That's precisely what should have been done here.

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It wasn't done.

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I would argue that we are still in pre McPherson situation.

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We still haven't looked at McPherson and thought what we should do

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and change about criminal justice and race in northern Ireland.

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In 1998 legislation was introduced in England and Wales

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which brought in a new kind of crime - racially-aggravated offences.

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Those offences don't exist in Northern Ireland.

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But there is legislation which allows perpetrators of crimes

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to get a longer sentence if there's a racial element involved.

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So, how many times have judges in Northern Ireland actually done that?

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Now you might think that information would be easily available.

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But it isn't - the Public prosecution Service hadn't published

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that information for over two years.

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We were finally given the latest statistics from the Public

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Prosecution Service an hour and a half before our interview with them.

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But there was still a big blind spot in the information.

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It told us how many people had been brought to court

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for racial offences ? but not how many of them had been convicted.

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I have been through these statistics over the last couple of hours,

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and I still can't find figures about how many convictions received

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enhanced sentences because the crime was racially aggravated.

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Yes and you will have difficulty finding that information for this

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reason, is that, while the law allows for the prosecution service

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to seek an enhanced sentence on the basis of aggravation by hostility to

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race, it doesn't require the court to

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record which element of the sentence has been increased because of that.

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In England and Wales it's easy to work out the conviction rate

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for racially-aggravated crimes that make it to court ? the most recent

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figures say it's 73%.

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But in Northern Ireland, the system doesn't tell us how many times the

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racist element has been punished.

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So how do we know if it's happening at all?

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There is not a single racist attack aggravated by racial hostility where

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the sentence was increased that you can give me an example of?

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I think...

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We certainly have one example where the judge very clearly set out.

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One, though.

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Yes, when the judge very clearly set out, but that's because,

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that's the only case in which the judge identified the element

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of the sentence which was increased because of the racial hostility.

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The PPS later provided us with details of that one case,

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in which a judge said she was giving a higher sentence

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for a racially-aggravated crime.

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And it turns out it involved a familiar face ? Musa.

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On one of the occasions when he was previously attacked,

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the offender was given an increased sentence by the judge

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because of the racial element.

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But it's the only time the PPS can point to where it has happened.

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It's clear that in Musa's case, he believes that what happened to

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him this time was also a racist attack ? and it's crucial to him

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that the system believes it too.

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What would you think if this if this crime was processed

0:20:080:20:11

as just a regular assault and the charge was not racist?

0:20:110:20:29

Yes, I know, I hear that, he was right on the street and he

0:20:290:20:32

called me "dirty Taxi bustard".

0:20:320:20:33

You know what I mean?

0:20:330:20:34

So you know it was a racist hate crime?

0:20:340:20:37

Yes, I believe this time.

0:20:370:20:38

The criminal justice system is so important to people

0:20:380:20:40

of ethnic minorities, and especially people who have been

0:20:400:20:42

victims of racist attacks.

0:20:420:20:43

It's crucial to them, that they feel these attacks are not

0:20:430:20:46

just being dealt with in terms of people receiving some sort

0:20:460:20:48

of conviction, but being seen for what they are, racist attacks.

0:20:480:20:51

At the moment, we just don't know if that's happening, there is no

0:20:510:20:54

evidence that that's happening.

0:20:540:20:56

Yes, but we have given you as much material as we have available to us.

0:20:560:21:02

The police have to provide us as prosecutors with the evidence.

0:21:020:21:04

if we have the evidence, we will prosecute it on that basis.

0:21:040:21:14

I can't do any better than that. But why is it possible in England

0:21:140:21:17

and Wales and not here to keep that racial element in the case?

0:21:170:21:20

I think in part because they are probably ten years

0:21:200:21:23

ahead of the curve in terms of practice, in terms of...

0:21:230:21:25

Or we are ten years behind.

0:21:250:21:27

Ten years behind, exactly, it is a matter of perspective.

0:21:270:21:29

And we probably are and that is why we are working hard

0:21:290:21:32

with the PPS to try and make sure that we can accelerate or look

0:21:320:21:35

at the legislative framework.

0:21:350:21:36

Because this is a matter for legislators, for investigators

0:21:360:21:38

and for prosecutors together.

0:21:380:21:45

After the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the McPherson Report said

0:21:450:21:48

that some parts of the criminal justice system in England and Wales

0:21:480:21:51

were institutionally racist.

0:21:510:21:56

The report defined institutional racism

0:21:560:21:57

as the collective failure to provide appropriate or professional support

0:21:570:22:02

to a community on the basis of its culture, colour or ethnic origin.

0:22:020:22:08

So could that apply in Northern Ireland to a system that

0:22:080:22:10

isn't able to count how many racist attacks result in convictions with

0:22:100:22:13

longer prison sentences?

0:22:130:22:17

The term institutional racism has been used in England

0:22:170:22:19

about organisations where there is a collective failure to support one

0:22:190:22:22

particular community, or one group.

0:22:220:22:25

Do you think that the Public Prosecution Service,

0:22:250:22:27

under that definition here is institutionally racist?

0:22:270:22:31

Absolutely.

0:22:310:22:33

If you look at the number of convictions, it would suggest that

0:22:330:22:36

there really is no problem with race hate here at all, because there is

0:22:360:22:40

almost nobody in prison serving time for being involved in it and of

0:22:400:22:43

course we know that isn't the case.

0:22:430:22:44

We have been told by some people from ethnic minority groups that

0:22:440:22:47

they feel the PPS, because it's not collecting this data properly,

0:22:470:22:50

is institutionally racist.

0:22:500:22:54

I have to say, I am shocked to hear words like that.

0:22:540:22:57

Because nobody has ever suggested that I have heard

0:22:570:23:00

before that the PPS has failed in its duty to minority races

0:23:000:23:03

within our society, or that we are not contributing in a significant

0:23:030:23:06

way, so I would reject it.

0:23:060:23:17

In some places ? such as our computer screens ? identifying

0:23:170:23:20

vicious racism isn't difficult.

0:23:200:23:25

The explosion in racial offences in Northern Ireland has been

0:23:250:23:27

accompanied by a rise in online racism.

0:23:270:23:31

Social media sites like Facebook and twitter have hosted some vicious

0:23:310:23:35

and vitriolic racial abuse written by people in Northern Ireland over

0:23:350:23:38

the past few months.

0:23:380:23:40

Much of it has been directed at one person in particular.

0:23:400:23:44

Alliance MLA Anna Lo.

0:23:440:23:50

As we all know, a lot of abuse came online on Facebook,

0:23:500:23:53

and we have some of those comments.

0:23:530:23:57

I assume you don't mind if we look at some of them, is that ok?

0:23:570:24:00

Not a problem.

0:24:000:24:01

These are some of the comments written about Anna Lo.

0:24:010:24:04

They are shocking and difficult to read, we feel it's important to show

0:24:040:24:07

some of them in order to reveal the nature of the abuse.

0:24:070:24:14

I know people have said that, oh, as a politician you should be thick

0:24:140:24:17

skinned, it's part and parcel of life as a politician to get abuse.

0:24:170:24:23

But there is not a politician anywhere

0:24:230:24:24

in the UK or Ireland who would be expected to put up with this?

0:24:240:24:28

No, no, no.

0:24:280:24:30

So how did it affect you personally?

0:24:300:24:33

Well it's very hurtful, very hurtful when people make such

0:24:330:24:35

abusive comments about your background, about your ethnic

0:24:350:24:37

origin about your appearance.

0:24:370:24:43

Absolutely it hurts and I am only human.

0:24:430:24:49

The Alliance party reported a number of the comments to the police.

0:24:490:24:53

So far, five people have been dealt with.

0:24:530:24:56

But no one was convicted ? all they received was a police caution.

0:24:560:25:02

Certainly in the case of Anna Lo and others we were so keen to prosecute.

0:25:020:25:06

To have an official sanction to make sure that people knew that

0:25:060:25:08

you couldn't get away with this without a police sanction.

0:25:080:25:11

But why were some of these people, I mean why were these people only

0:25:110:25:14

cautioned?

0:25:140:25:15

Surely there should have been a bigger sanction than that.

0:25:150:25:18

I mean they get off, don't they?

0:25:180:25:20

Well don't forget that is a matter for the Public Prosecution Service.

0:25:200:25:23

We packet the evidence, we gather the evidence,

0:25:230:25:24

we present it to the PPS and the PPS make a decision and sanction.

0:25:240:25:28

Surely in a case like this, it's in the public interest to have

0:25:280:25:31

some people receive deterrent sentences and prosecutions,

0:25:310:25:33

which will make everyone think I am not doing that again.

0:25:330:25:38

cautions, Anna Lo believes that cautions are not enough.

0:25:380:25:42

Well I do not want to go into the specifics of that case,

0:25:420:25:46

but that would not have been my understanding of the situation

0:25:460:25:48

whenever we looked at it.

0:25:480:25:54

But Anna Lo was clear when we spoke to her that the sanctions

0:25:540:25:57

didn't appear to match the crime.

0:25:570:26:01

If the criminal justice system had come down very hard on one or two or

0:26:010:26:05

more people who had written on this page, would that have been

0:26:050:26:08

helpful to you and to other people?

0:26:080:26:09

I think so.

0:26:090:26:12

Partly it's justice, we want justice.

0:26:120:26:16

You know, we don't want to be abused and see

0:26:160:26:18

no action done, yes, we want that to be a deterrent to let people see

0:26:180:26:22

that they will face consequences.

0:26:220:26:26

If people are just receiving cautions, it will seem to many

0:26:260:26:28

people like a slap on the wrist.

0:26:280:26:31

Yes, yes, and that should not have happened.

0:26:310:26:34

The point about really vicious on line racism, though, is that it has

0:26:340:26:37

a wider social impact, doesn't it?

0:26:370:26:39

It does.

0:26:390:26:40

It lowers the tone and it makes other people who read

0:26:400:26:43

it think, well, this is acceptable.

0:26:430:26:45

So at some point isn't there an argument that we give someone

0:26:450:26:47

more than a police caution?

0:26:470:26:50

Absolutely.

0:26:500:26:51

So why haven't we done it so far?

0:26:510:26:54

You are focussing on one case, in which a number of diversionary

0:26:540:26:58

decisions were taken in the context of that case, which i can't talk

0:26:580:27:02

about, because it's not complete, so with the greatest of respect, Declan

0:27:020:27:05

this organisation takes race crime very seriously and prosecutes in

0:27:050:27:07

court, the vast majority of cases.

0:27:070:27:14

But for the victims of racist attacks, it's not prosecutions

0:27:140:27:16

that matter, but convictions.

0:27:160:27:19

And in particular, higher sentences for

0:27:190:27:21

the perpetrators of racist attacks.

0:27:210:27:25

The killer, Brij Sharma, was given a 17-month prison sentence

0:27:250:27:30

for manslaughter.

0:27:300:27:31

His brother and accomplice, who was also present, was sentenced

0:27:310:27:34

to 100 hours community service.

0:27:340:27:40

It brought home the message to every Indian person living here in

0:27:400:27:49

Northern Ireland - it is a question mark ? how important is their

0:27:490:27:51

contribution, their life in Northern

0:27:510:27:53

Ireland....to Northern Ireland.

0:27:530:27:54

The PPS told us that ten years on, they are meticulous about recording

0:27:540:28:07

cases which go to court as being racially motivated, and enter that

0:28:070:28:10

element on their computerised file about the offence.

0:28:100:28:12

They say since May 2013, they have recorded 124 cases as having

0:28:120:28:15

a racially-aggravated element.

0:28:150:28:15

You identifying it, on your computer system is not justice in the eyes

0:28:150:28:19

of a race hate victim, they want to see a conviction which takes into

0:28:190:28:22

account the racial element and they tell us they are never seeing it.

0:28:220:28:28

I appreciate that, and I have great sympathy for those

0:28:280:28:30

people from those communities which are being targeted in this way.

0:28:300:28:34

And all of us in this society, we all have to play our part

0:28:340:28:38

in identifying the underlying causes of this.

0:28:380:28:41

And in eeking out the evidence which will help us bring in new

0:28:410:28:45

measures to tackle this, obviously increasing cancer in our society.

0:28:450:28:56

Dealing with racism isn't just the job of the courts.

0:28:560:28:59

But they do have a crucial role to play in making

0:28:590:29:02

the perpetrators of racist attacks pay the price for their crimes.

0:29:020:29:07

Victims of those attacks need to know that justice is not just being

0:29:070:29:10

done, but being seen to be done.

0:29:100:29:13

But right now in Northern Ireland, it seems that too many victims

0:29:130:29:16

simply aren't seeing it.

0:29:160:29:22

Did the 1966 World Cup

0:29:370:29:38

mark the birth of modern football?

0:29:380:29:41

Would we starve without bees?

0:29:410:29:43

Why do Buddhists meditate?

0:29:430:29:46

Is rocket science easier than you think?

0:29:460:29:48

Well, BBC iWonder is full of great questions

0:29:480:29:53

for curious people like us. They just keep on coming.

0:29:530:29:57

Luckily, they have the answers as well.

0:29:570:29:59

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