David Findlay is a Conservative member of Blaby District Council, and Chair of the Police Hate Crime Panel for Leicestershire, Leicester, and Rutland.
Since the 1960’s, when the Wolfenden review led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the rights of people within Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities have been enshrined in laws in many countries around the world.
Not only that, but, several Acts have also enshrined the rights of people who are disabled, and of different ethnic backgrounds and religions.
In the last three years, I have had the privilege to chair the Leicestershire Police Hate Crime Scrutiny Panel, which reviews how the Police and CPS respond to and investigate hate crime incidents across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.
I have not personally experienced hate crime, but two incidents – one of them was on the other side of the Atlantic, which fundamental changed how the US Government viewed hate crimes – caught my interest.
The first incident was the bombing of the Admiral Duncan pub in London. Members of the LGBT community and friends were enjoying a day out when a nail bomb went off, killing and injuring people. That day changed many people’s lives, and brought the first real glimpse that LGBT people were being targeted because of who they loved.
The second incident happened in the small town of Laramie in Wyoming. Not many people will know this story, as at the time it didn’t gather much press attention over here: a young man named Matthew Shepard was beaten and left to die on the open fields of the Wyoming countryside just outside Laramie.
After his death, a campaign prompted the US Government to bring in Federal hate crime laws. A play called the Laramie Project has since been performed in schools and theatres across the UK, and is a good education tool on hate crime, and the effect that it can have on people that are left behind.
In the last few months, we have had some truly shocking incidents that have affected many communities that have been targeted because of who they love and who they believe in. We have had the Orlando shootings that have left a hole in the LGBT community; we’ve had the murder of a Catholic Priest; and we also had the slaughter of innocent people in France.
Yes, these crimes were committed by people of a particular faith, but let’s not forget that these crimes were hate crimes and crimes against people’s freedoms.
So it was in July that we had the UK Government publish its plan for tackling hate crime in the UK. Reading through it, the plan is quite comprehensive and one that I hope can be built upon, so that in years to come we can eliminate hate crime.
However, in order to do that we must have comprehensive education about it in schools, colleges, football academies a,nd other sports institutions. The reason I say ‘comprehensive’ is that we need to also tackle misunderstanding that some people have around the LGBT community and minority religions.
Let’s look at faith. Some of the incidents I mentioned above were caused by an individual of a particular faith, and because of that – and a lack of understanding – people of that faith then become victims of hate crime.
So we have this vicious circle, all because of a lack of understanding of that faith, and in part that is down to society and we are all guilty of it.
Let’s also look at football: just recently we had a player, Andre Gray, charged by the FA for comments on Twitter, and this is not the first time that something like this has happened. So the FA needs to go further in educating both footballers and fans about these issues.
The success of the Kick It Out campaign shows that with determination this can be done, and it must expand to combat all discrimination so that hopefully one day we can have openly gay players, as we do in female football.
Alongside a comprehensive, preventative education programme, we need the same for those who commit these crimes in order to better rehabilitate them.
This idea emerged from a discussion on one of the panels I chaired, whilst discussing a case. The incident was more on the non-violent side, and could have been avoided if the individual had a better awareness and understanding of different faiths.
Now I’m not saying that this will work for all people that commit the crimes, but it should for a majority of them. By having a comprehensive rehabilitation programme, we can tackle the other end of the spectrum so that we can reduce re-offending and, in time, the number of repeat victims too.
So yes, we do need to get people to report hate crime, and to have the confidence that when it is reported that it is dealt with seriously and with the utmost respect.
However, we must also educate people so they realise how much our differences help make our society great, and understand the damage that these crimes have on people of different races, creeds, ability, or sexuality.
I know that as a politician, and someone that has seen the impact that hate crimes have, more needs to be done and that we must triple our efforts to defeat hate and intolerance.