By Leonie Stanton
THERE IS growing concern about hate crimes against ethnic minorities in Yorkshire after a study found 50,000 offensive tweets were sent supporting the man who murdered Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox.
The research, by academics in Birmingham and Nottingham and the Hope Not Hate campaign, examined cyber hate speech on social media following the attack on Mrs Cox by Thomas Mair and the EU Referendum in June 2016.
The report, titled Jo Cox ‘deserved to die’: Cyber hate speech unleashed on Twitter after Jo Cox’s death & the Brexit vote, was published yesterday. It found hate offences on the the street could be linked to online perpetrators inspired by “trigger” events.
Its authors have called on social media companies to fulfil a duty of care and conduct in addition to founding an archive filled with online hate incidents.
Co-author Dr Imran Awan, associate professor in criminology and deputy director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University, said: “Our report shows that sadly after the death of Jo Cox, we witnessed a surge in online hostility directed towards her because of what she stood for.
“In most cases, the cyber hate speech of this nature was clearly intending to send a message to others that this could also happen to them if they chose to stand up for Syrian refugees.
“This shows how the internet acts as an echo chamber for such hostility where hateful comments are reinforced and can impact upon wider community cohesion.
“It also reinforces the horrendous messages we captured which called Jo Cox a traitor and that she got what she deserved for voting Remain and also helping Syrian refugees.”
Charities including Victim Support have condemned the increase in racially and religious motivated incidents, which have risen by 58% in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, according to the National Police Chiefs’ Council.
Lesley McLean, manager for Victim Support in Yorkshire, said: “Hate crime has no place in our society and every victim of this crime is one too many.
“We know that many victims suffer in silence, so it’s important that they are encouraged to come forward for help, knowing they will get the support they need and the help they deserve.”
Joanna Collymore, 48, was born in Leeds and her parents were born in Barbados. She believes that the vote to leave the European Union motivated an increase in hate crimes.
She said: “The hate has always been there. Now people feel like it is acceptable to voice their opinions.
“Not even a week after the vote, I was verbally abused as I walked home from the shops. I didn’t report it because that’s just life. I’ve been spat at, I’ve been beaten. Nothing is going to change.
“I’m terrified that what happened to Jo Cox will happen again.”
Report co-author, Dr Irene Zempi, director of the Nottingham Centre for Bias, Prejudice and Hate Crime, and lecturer in criminology at Nottingham Trent University, said: “We found that Jo Cox was often referred to as a ‘traitor’ and the ‘enemy within’ who ‘deserved to die’, whilst her killer, Thomas Mair, was described as a ‘hero’ and a ‘patriot’, who was unlawfully imprisoned.
“In line with the latest Government hate crime action plan, we offer key recommendations that will help prevent and respond to cyber hate speech on Twitter based on our current findings.”
Thomas Mair was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Old Bailey last week for stabbing and shooting Mrs Cox outside her constituency office on 16 June during the lead-up to the EU referendum.
So far this year 5,468 racially and religious motivated crimes have been logged, compared to 3,886 in 2015.
Hate crime is defined by police as “any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic”.
PC Matt Guy, a University of Leeds Higher Education Police Officer, said he was disappointed by the rise in hate crimes in Yorkshire. He said: “West Yorkshire Police have experienced a rise in hate crime and we do encourage people to report it.”
Victim Support said its highly trained staff and volunteers offer free, confidential information and support to anyone affected by crime – regardless of when the crime took place or if the police are involved. Call 0300 303 1971 or visit victimsupport.org.uk to find out more.