From Councillor Aram Rawf

Broadstairs

Monday 6 July 2020

 

Dear Craig Mackinlay

You have stated publicly that you are unaware of any significant amount of racism in Thanet. You have asked me to provide documentary evidence to the contrary. This is that documentary evidence. It is, of course by no means exhaustive — just a selection but I hope enough to make you reconsider your view of Thanet and the racism in it.

I am an Iraqi Kurd. I came to Thanet  22 years ago when I was 17 as an asylum seeker. I became a British citizen in 2011 and a Labour councillor for Thanet and Broadstairs in 2019. I have first hand experience of the casual, everyday racism most ethnic minorities suffer in Thanet, but I will not quote my personal experiences here.

Being yourself a Conservative MP, a leading Brexiteer, and one of the founders of UKIP, I would suggest you are unlikely to have many people reporting racist incidents to you because, unfortunately they would not expect a sympathetic hearing. But I hope the following material at least gives you pause for thought, helps to persuade you that we have a real problem with racism in Thanet and prompts you to investigate further.

Thanet has a long history of being targeted by racist politicians. You may not be aware of this but at the beginning of the 2000s, there were a series of large marches and protests in Margate and Cliftonville held against asylum seekers by the openly racist National Front and other far right groups.

In more recents years, in October 2017, the Crown Prosecution Service revealed that hate crime conviction rates — which include racist crimes — in Kent were among the highest in the country (Isle of Thanet News, Oct 17, 2017). There were 289 hate crime prosecutions in Kent between April 2016 and March 2017. Of these 243 were racial and religious hate crime, and of these 209 resulted in convictions.

While these are figures for Kent, it is highly likely that the trend was similar in Thanet. This is borne out by figures from Kent County Council (KCC)  showing that racist taunts and attacks have more than doubled in Thanet schools in recent years. (Kentonline website, Aug 2018).

This data, obtained from a Freedom of Information request, shows 751 incidents were recorded in Kent between 2016 and 2017. Thanet had most  cases  — 143, followed by Gravesham, with 96, and Swale, where there were 83 reports

 

MEDIA REPORTS

If you have been looking at our local newspapers and news online services — and I can’t believe you haven’t — you will have seen a series of reports of racist incidents in recent years..

A particularly horrific one was published by the Isle of Thanet News in September 2017 (“Thug who racially abused and assaulted schoolchildren in Margate is jailed”). This was the story of a man who racially threatened and assaulted almost a dozen young people in Margate and was jailed for two years. 

For one of the young people abused and assaulted in this attack it was only one in a succession of her experiences of racism in Thanet.

AXXX XXX, the mother of this young girl, later featured in a report on racism in Thanet in the Guardian in 2018.

Of AXXX XXX and her family, the paper reported: “The four and a half years since they began a new life on the Kent coast have been marked by frequent encounters with racism – most seriously in a violent assault on her then 14-year-old daughter, but also including persistent prejudice.”

AXXX XXX told the Guardian: “The racism here is subtle. It’s ignorance. People talking to you might use words like ‘coloured’ and think it’s completely normal. Or you go to a bar and the crowd will think nothing of singing along with the use of the N-word in a rap song.”

The same Guardian article included the case of a woman who claimed to have been driven out of Ramsgate by racism: “KXXX XXX, 56, who was among the newcomers to the coast in recent years, says the racism experienced by her mixed-race daughter is driving them out of Ramsgate…” She told the Guardian: “It has been a journey through absolute hell. If I had known that we were going to go through this then there was no way we would have moved here.”

In March 2019 Paul Messenger, Conservative county councillor for Ramsgate, the largest town in your South Thanet constituency, was suspended from the party pending an investigation into social media posts on the subject of Muslims living in the UK.

(Kentonline March 2019).

Messenger’s posts suggested that the threat posed by Muslim communities was greater than that faced by the IRA. Another read: “My fear is that are we sponsoring through child benefit and other welfare payments large Muslim families that twenty years on there will be enough of them to launch an Isil type takeover.” Mr Messenger later admitted responsibility for the posts. 

Is it possible, Mr Mackinkay, that you were not aware of your own colleague being suspended by your own party at this time? Or would you not classify his actions as racist?

In April 2019, the Isle of Thanet News reported a racist incident involving an election candidate, again in Ramsgate. RXXX XXX, who was standing in local elections, was canvassing in Ramsgate High Street when a man began shouting racial abuse at her. The Isle of Thanet News reported that she was then followed into a restaurant where the man continued to yell abuse at her, until neighbouring shop owners came and finally got him to leave. This was reported to the police.

Were you really unaware of this incident?

In April 2020 Kentonline reported on a 29 year old man who hurled racist abuse at a Margate shop worker. When someone else stepped in to help, the man was also racially abusive towards him, then assaulted him. The man, who admitted the offences, was charged with racially-aggravated assault, shoplifting, assaulting an officer and a racially-aggravated public order offence.

In May 2020 the Isle of Thanet News reported on a robber who racially abused and ‘gouged the eyes’ of a Ramsgate shopkeeper. The man admitted robbery and racially aggravated assault and was jailed for four years.

The police said the man “carried out a reprehensible, racist and violent attack against his victim which would have been a frightening ordeal.”

The above are of course, by definition, only some events that “hit the headlines”. Under the news radar, people from ethnic minorities in Thanet are continually experiencing low level racism, being called names, being discriminated against and demeaned in a thousand small and not so small ways. I know this from personal experience and from the many people who have written to me.

PUBLIC TESTIMONY TO RACISM

To illustrate this, I will quote just a few of the comments written to me by people directly responding to your recent claims about the lack of racism in Thanet.  Almost all are outraged by what they see as your deliberate blindness to what is happening to them on an ongoing basis. Of the many sent me I will quote just three —  all of them residents of the largest town in your constituency, Ramsgate and all of whom have asked to remain anonymous.

RAMSGATE RESIDENT 1

“When I used to go out drinking in Ramsgate years ago I’d encounter racism pretty much every night, mostly verbal aimed towards friends but in multiple occasions physical attacks were included… I played Sunday league in a team with a few Polish players and they received abuse every single game”

RAMSGATE RESIDENT 2

“For Mackinlay to ask the victims of racism to tell him about any incidents is insensitive and risks retraumatising these individuals.  Many victims of racism don’t want to talk about what happened to them, they want to forget it and move on, it’s too painful. Mackinkay is asking because he wants to deny there is a problem, he wants to be persuaded that such a problem exists. He is doing this by asking the very victims to share their painful stories. He should do his job and go and find this information from the police, the schools and his own constituents. How likely is that a black person experiencing discrimination would go to Mackinlay for help if he is denying such issues exist in Thanet? By making this statement he is denying the experience of many BAME and migrant constituents he should also represent.”

RAMSGATE RESIDENT 3

“Having grown up in Thanet and lived here for over 40 years I  have certainly experienced racisim. That Craig Mackinlay says none has been reported to him is a reflection on him, not the existence of it in Thanet. I should not stoop to his level and give my personal experience as it is deeply offensive to deny the reality of black people in Thanet who experience racism almost daily. I cannot even name my profession as it would too easily identify who I am, such is the low representation of black people across professions in Thanet.”

Finally, Mr Mackinlay, just in case you missed this, I will quote to you an email sent recently by a Thanet resident, SXXX XXXX, to both you and Roger Gale as the two MPs for our community. Again it is a direct response to your claim and paints a disturbing picture of what many people from ethnic minority backgrounds are experiencing on a day to day basis. 

 

——– Original message ——–

From: SXXX XXXXX…..

Date: 27/06/2020 23:29

Dear Mr Gale and Mr Mackinlay,

*Trigger warning: Contains descriptions of racist incidents.*

I write to you both as a CT9 XXX resident, regarding Mr Mackinkay’s recent comments regarding racism in Thanet.

I find your recent comments which deny that racism exists in Thanet deeply disturbing, but I am glad that you have asked for examples.

I work in Aldi in Clifftonville where I regularly witness white British customers racially abusing a person of colour, staff and customers included. I have stepped in countless times over the years, in every place I have worked in Thanet. 

I even got told to “Go back wherever I came from” by one British female customer on Margate High Street who demanded I prove to her that I am British. 

 

My 13 year old daughter attends XXXX school. She is mixed race. A white male student told her

“Your skin looks like shit, so you must be a shit person” .

My 1 year old baby girl, also mixed race, has been the target of direct racial abuse twice already. First at around 3 months old, in the local off licence, a white British male blocked our way and stated “Ah look, Tarzan baby, like a black monkey.” Laughed, then kissed her on the forehead and walked out. The second, which I have a crime report number for, happened outside our residence, where one out of a group of white British females referred to my baby girl as “nigger baby”. 

My first time at a baby group, 13 years ago at Six Bells Surestart Centre Margate, another mother was sharing her birth story. The only part I can recall is when she proudly stated  “I told them I didnt want a Kosovan doctor touching me, not a chance mate.” I continue to use Surestart services with my second baby, and the casual racism amongst white and British parents is still rampant. Sometimes subtle, sometimes not.

A friend of mine had a stroke and went to QEQM A&E alone. His speech was severly affected, which we all know is one of the first signs of stroke from the “FAST” teaching. Sadly, A&E staff failed to recognise this, and had him alone in a bed until I arrived hours later and told them that he must have had a stroke. They had tried to write on paper for him “Whats wrong?”, to which he struggled to write a response, but was not able to write. They had given him a cup of tea which he spilt all down his t-shirt  and they still just assumed that he could not speak English and was drunk. He is a black man with an African name — why do you think basic medical knowledge wasn’t applied in this case by NHS medical professionals? 

So there we have examples in Thanet schools, in Thanet Surestart centres, in Margate High Street, in workplaces, in supermarkets, outside a Thanet home and in the NHS hospital. This is an extremely minimal list, from only me, one Thanet resident. And I’m white. I have witnessed countless verbal incidents, aggressive incidents, and institutional examples. Even as a white person, I am afraid of the racism in Thanet, and even more afraid of the ignorance surrounding it, which allows racism to continue unchallenged.

We know that many complain about “all the foreigners” in Cliftonville, where I work. All my colleagues are white British apart from one. The only other employees of colour I have seen have been employed by external cleaning or security services. Though when we used to accept CVs in store, many of them came from local people of colour.

Mr Mackinlay, your comments have hurt so many people. Your comments have caused and added to serious emotional trauma of Thanet residents.

Your dismissive attitude shows a total lack of understanding and empathy. 

I can suggest many ways you can educate yourself and correct this misconception you have, but, I feel the best way is for you to listen to People of Colour in Thanet. Your comments have acted to ERASE and INVALIDATE the painful experiences of people living in Thanet, and you have much mending to do.

  1. What efforts are you making to become aware of this very real and very serious issue in Thanet?
  2. What efforts are you making to heal the damage your comments have caused to Thanet residents?
  3. How has such a clear, local, everyday issue, gone totally unnoticed by yourself for so long?
  4. Can you reassure Thanet residents that you are actually aware of the major local and national, and international threat posed by White Supremacist groups and individuals? 

There are 2 amazing Thanet residents, Naomi and Natalie Evans. They are sisters who set up an Instagram page in May 2020 called @everydayracism_  which has over 20.5K follwers. They have 14 stories of racism on their page currently and 5 of them happened in Thanet.

This is a great starting point for you and I would suggest getting in touch with them, as they are very aware of your damaging comments and are already actively doing antiracism work.

I would also suggest People Dem Collective, again local people, who organised some of the local marches recently. 

We are all unlearning and relearning together. We can no longer accept ignorance as a valid excuse.

Yours Faithfully,

 

SXXXX XXXXX

Mr Mackinlay, these are just a small sample of what many ethnic minority people hear and see most days of their lives. I am very happy to share this information with, as you suggest, Kent Police, the Police and Crime Commissioner, government ministers including the Home Secretary.

But I do also call on you now stick to your promise and to launch an investigation into racism in Thanet. You must forget about your past, join the fight against racism and work with us to tackle this problem. You must start representing everyone in the community not just your core voters.

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