A top human rights lawyer has challenged the Sun after it launched a vile racist attack on one of the UK’s most persecuted groups of people.
On 30 August, 50 “officers and riot vans” evicted people and “around 15-20 caravans” from a greenspace site in Woodford Green. There were no arrests and the eviction was peaceful.
But as human rights barrister Marc Willers QC pointed out, a Sun article about the eviction perpetuates dangerous racist tropes:
I see the Sun is at it again. The daily rag responsible for the ‘stamp on the camps’ campaign in the 1990s is talking about a town ‘plagued by gypsies’ and a ‘swarm of mobile homes’ – when will the authorities bring a halt to this racist reporting? https://t.co/nsT2ocvaga
— Marc Willers QC (@mwillersqc) September 1, 2018
The language in the original story is vile. As Willers points out, words like “plagued” and “swarm” perpetuate the ongoing discrimination that Travellers and Gypsies face on a daily basis.
Local reports of the eviction were far more measured:
More than 50 police officers evict Woodford Green Travellers https://t.co/zdBa3xhmmG
— Aka chowdhury (@akaisit) August 30, 2018
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the landowners, the City of London Corporation, stated the Travellers “left the site peacefully within a few hours”. Yet the Sun’s language entrenches the wider issues of a group who “still face routine daily racism”.
In the UK there are an estimated 63,000 people who identify as Gypsies and Travellers – although this figure is likely to to be an underestimation. This data comes from the 2011 census which “included an ethnic category to collect data on Gypsy, Traveller and Irish Traveller communities”. These communities are:
recognised as two distinct ethnic minority groups in law because they are recognised as members of communities with a shared history, culture and language stretching back over hundreds of years.
As such, they have – in principle – the same protections as other ethnic minorities in the UK under the Equality Act. But as a 2017 report found, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) people face “pervasive prejudice and discrimination” daily and:
These experiences of prejudice are seemingly so common that they have almost become normalised for these communities.
There is also another community of “New Travellers” who are:
‘cultural’ rather than ‘ethnic’ Travellers”. These include ‘New’ (Age) Travellers and occupational travellers, such as showmen and waterway travellers.
But this group is “not a legally recognised ethnic minority group because their history only goes back to the early 1960′s”.
All groups suffer from racism and discrimination. As Friends and Families of Travellers explain:
Members of the Gypsy and Traveller communities can often face harassment and discrimination on a daily basis as a result of negative stereotypes and deeply ingrained cultural prejudices.
Rising hate crime and discrimination
In 2015, reports from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that Gypsies and Travellers faced “multiple inequalities” and that their “life chances” had declined since 2010. This is a result of increased “deprivation, social exclusion and discrimination”. There’s also a “national shortage of suitable permanent and transit Traveller sites”.
This is a pattern sadly mirrored across Europe. Because Travellers, particularly Roma, face increased violence and discrimination as far-right groups continue to rise.
A 2017 survey by the Traveller Movement of GRT communities in the UK found that:
- 91% experienced discrimination because of their ethnicity
- 77% experienced hate crime and speech
- 76% had hidden their ethnicity to avoid discrimination or prejudice
- 77% had not sought legal help after experiencing discrimination.
The last figure is significant. Hate crime is underreported across the board but it is a particular problem in the Gypsy and Traveller community. Conn MacGabhann, manager of the Traveller Equality Project said that communities lack the confidence to report because:
there is an unwillingness on the part of the police and the CPS to regard anti-Gypsy and anti-Traveller discrimination as seriously as other forms of racism.
Shut the Sun!
The rhetoric used by the Sun entrenches and magnifies the issues faced by these communities. It repeats the same disgusting language also used against refugees, migrants, Muslims and other ethnic minorities.
Yet first and foremost these are individual people. Racism hurts. The dangerous language of the Sun and other right-wing outlets has real-life consequences. Hate crime spiked during the EU referendum, and police chiefs are warning of a further rise when the UK actually leaves the EU.
Speaking about the rise in hate crime following the referendum, Christian Ahlund, chair of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance stated:
It is no coincidence that racist violence is on the rise in the UK at the same time as we see worrying examples of intolerance and hate speech in the newspapers, online and even among politicians.
Willers is absolutely right, the authorities need to step in to halt this vile racist ‘reporting’. Or even better, let’s use our collective power to shut the Sun down once and for all.
– Report and stand up to hate crimes towards Gypsies and Travellers.
– Boycott the Sun.
– Support Stop Funding Hate.
– Join The Canary, so we can keep holding the powerful to account.