By Pamela Belonwu
Criminal justice policy and campaigns officer with the Traveller Movement
As human beings, the fundamentals of healthy relationships are fairly standard. We want to be respected, we want to be listened to and we want to be valued. That applies in our professional and personal lives.
For generations despite legislation, race discrimination remains prevalent around the world, in places that are supposed to be civilised societies. It’s a major problem in our criminal justice system (CJS).
When a child is bullied, we support them and, the bully is held accountable.
The perpetrator is made to feel ashamed. They are told they should change their behaviour.
The perpetrators of race discrimination are often left unchallenged by the people who should be holding them accountable. This offers them a form of protection. People who complain about race discrimination are told they have a chip on their shoulder or, they’re overly sensitive. This is victim blaming.
Skin colour or cultural heritage isn’t something individuals choose. It’s part of their core, what makes them who they are, something to be proud of. No one should have the right to diminish them for that. This seems pretty uncivil to me.
It’s not right that people should have to hide their true identities for fear of being discriminated against and subjected to hate crime. However, every day in many of our prisons, and in open society, that is exactly what Irish Travellers are doing.
Equality and diversity is sometimes referred to as just a ‘tick box’ exercise.
That can be true. But Roma people in our CJS don’t even have the box to tick. They have the option of categorising themselves as ‘White other’. If you’re not counted, your needs can’t be properly considered; your experiences cannot be listened to.
Genuine commitment to promoting equality and challenging discrimination means we don’t pick and choose what group we give our support to. A racist person isn’t a little bit racist. The harmful impact is the same, irrespective of who it’s directed towards.
People continued to ignore, diminish, disrespect and undervalue. Then, we arrived at the point where, it took the brutal murder of a black man, at the hands of the police, for people to acknowledge that racism is still a major problem, particularly in our CJS.
If the traumatic events leading to the death of George Floyd were not recorded, by a civilian passer-by, and circulated around the world, it would have gone unnoticed to all but those closest to him; the perpetrators would have gone home after a day’s work and continued in their jobs. Unchallenged, unaccountable, protected.
Prisons are closed environments. And there is minimal chance that acts of discriminatory behaviour and excessive use of force will be filmed and circulated around the world, like it was with George Floyd. Yet we know it has been happening for a long time.
A recent report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) looked at these unacceptable patterns of behaviour in three UK prisons. The Government's response can be viewed here.
There’s another thing that can happen if the school bully is left unchallenged. Their victim can somehow, someway find a way to overcome them. The victim can become the victor.
In order to do this, people have to uncover their ears, un-blinker their eyes, and un-mute their voices, to challenge, to support and protect, but you have to be in it for the long-game.
The revolution has been televised. But only for some. As a self-proclaimed civilised society, we should not be comfortable with that.