In Britain’s Courts, Does It Matter If You’re Black Or White?

Sean O’Neill, Times (London), Dec. 3, 2005

Two identical acts of kindness that led two young men to violent deaths have been recounted before the criminal courts in the past fortnight.

Anthony Walker and Christopher Yates, concerned about female friends late at night, walked with them to bus stops in Liverpool and London respectively to make sure that the women got home safely. Both were set upon, not far from homes they shared with their mothers, by other young men from their own neighbourhoods who had been drinking heavily or taking drugs.

In Huyton, Liverpool, Mr Walker, 18, who was black, was attacked by Paul Taylor and Michael Barton and killed with a savage blow to the head with an ice axe. They were sentenced to at least 24 years and 18 years, respectively. In Barking, East London, Mr Yates, 30, a white man, was knocked to the ground and kicked and stamped on by Sajid Zulfiqar, Zahid Bashir and Imran Maqsood.

Every bone in his face was broken in a ferocious attack. Afterwards, Zulfiqar boasted in Urdu: “We killed the white boy. That will teach a white man to stick his nose in Paki business.”

But while a judge in Liverpool decided that Mr Walker’s murderers were racists—and therefore liable to more severe jail terms—an Old Bailey judge decided that Mr Yates’s murderers had not been motivated by racial hatred. Zulfiqar, Bashir and Maqsood were sentenced to 15 years in prison, the minimum tariff for murder.

The similarities between the two murder cases, and the differences in their outcomes, has left the Yates family feeling that it has been treated unequally. “I understand what Mrs Walker and her family are going through. We are going through exactly the same thing,” Rose Yates, Mr Yates’s mother, told The Times.

“But it appears to me that we have experienced a different measure of justice than they have experienced.”

Mrs Yates, a thoughtful woman who has taught children of many races and creeds, pondered long and hard before making this comment. Like Gee Walker, she sat through every day of her son’s killers’ trial. She heard how the three men who killed her son had also screamed racial abuse at a black man and carried out a violent assault on a second black man. In the end, Mrs Yates concluded “it seemed that they had something against everyone who was not of their own race”.

The judgments in the Walker and Yates cases reflect a reluctance by the authorities—police, prosecutors, judges and politicians—to recognise that ethnic minority groups can be perpetrators as well as victims of racism.

The question of anti-white racism makes the political class uncomfortable. But it is a very real phenomenon.

A Home Office report reveals that of the 22 homicides classified as racially motivated between 2001-04, the majority of victims (12 cases) were white.

There is growing anecdotal evidence of a more aggressive Asian youth culture which manifests itself in racist attacks against whites and blacks.

The increasing aggression is the result of the growing sense of victimisation and isolation felt by many in the Asian community. Young people from Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities feel victimised by police after the July 7 attacks; some are also fired by the rise of political Islam and anger over issues such as Iraq.

Shifting demographics in East London are also fuelling incidents. In Tower Hamlets and Newham, Asian communities sense encroachment from the growth of the City and Canary Wharf and the stirrings of gentrification since the successful 2012 Olympic bid.

There is resentment that unemployment levels remain high and incomes low in the Bangladeshi community while new middle-class immigrants push up house prices.

As a result, the tensions of the 1960s, when the poor white communities felt threatened by the influx of West Indian and Asian immigrants, are once more being raised, but this time it is the Asians who feel their community is imperilled by the white arrivals.

Elsewhere in the borough of Tower Hamlets, one police officer said that he had seen a rise in antisocial behaviour incidents which might be racially motivated.

He said: “We are seeing a new phenomenon. Asian gangs used to fight turf wars with one another. But there have been attacks on young, white professionals buying new properties here because they are seen as moving into a Bengali neighbourhood.”

It was in this fraught and changing environment that Mr Yates was murdered. A judge thinks his death was not the result of a racist attack. His mother begs to disagree.

But because of the discomfort such cases cause, there are few voices prepared to speak out in support of Mrs Yates.

The Commission for Racial Equality, asked about anti-white racism, said that there was little, if any, research on the issue. The London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, where Mr Yates lived, said its community cohesion unit did not want to comment.

People from minority communities are most likely to be victims of racist crime.

Results from the 2002-03 British Crime Survey show that less than 1 per cent of white people had experienced a crime that they thought was racially motivated. This compares with 2 per cent for the black community and 3 per cent among Asian groups.

But 1 per cent of whites amounts to a substantial number of people—and a growing problem.

THE RACIAL ELEMENTS

Ross Parker, 17, was beaten and stabbed to death in Peterborough in 2001. Racial tension was running high in the days after September 11. A judge said the killing had been “racist”. But the prosecution did not present the issue of racial motivation to the jury for fear of complicating the case. Shaied Nazir, Ahmed Ali Awan and Sarfraz Ali were jailed for murder.

Gavin Hopley, 19, was kicked to death by up to eight Asian men in Oldham in February 2003. His watch and chain were stolen and he died in hospital. Six men were convicted of violent disorder and theft offences but no one has been convicted of his murder.

Kriss Donald, 15, was abducted in Glasgow in March 2004, stabbed 13 times, doused in petrol and set alight. Daanish Zahid was found guilty of his abduction and murder in November last year. Three other defendants, who were returned to the UK from Pakistan, have been charged and await trial. It was alleged that Stathclyde Police had shelved an operation against Asian gang crime for fear of being perceived as racist.

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