In Edinburgh in recent weeks, there have been a number of alarming incidents of racist violence. The only reason innocent people were attacked was the colour of their skin.
Some victims have been subjects to months of abuse and intimidation.
We know this because some of these incidents were reported to the police. What we do not know is how many are not reported.
Like many people I am shocked that this can happen in our supposedly liberal and tolerant city in the year 2020. And like many I am a little unsure how to respond. It would be wrong to blow things out of proportion and to overhype the problem. At the same time, we cannot ignore what is happening and the daily misery it is causing to many of our neighbours.
These attacks were not the work of outsiders or far-right organisations. The attackers live within our communities.We all need to get serious about what is happening, call out those involved and leave them in no doubt that their behaviour is unacceptable.
The good news is that this is happening. A vigil attracted 100 people and, shortly after that, a well-attended meeting brought one community together to plan a campaign.
This is not a new problem. But things have changed. Whereas in the 1980s, many people tried to defend and appease the racists, today they have no sympathy. The community is outraged and appalled, as are the friends and families of those involved in the attacks.
The police, to their credit, have changed too. They have moved quickly and decisively. This will in turn give those on the receiving end confidence that the police are there to defend them.
Racism is the most pernicious of all motivations when it comes to crime. There are many innocent victims of crime every day, but racist attacks seem worse. There is no question of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, nothing random, instead you are targeted just because of where you were born and the colour of your skin. It just seems so inhuman, so unjust.
So we need to bind together as a community and give no quarter to those who would set us against each other.
It goes without saying that those responsible for such attacks must be punished with the full force of the law. But the answer cannot just be criminalising this behaviour. We need to understand it and change it. What motivates a person to attack someone because of their skin colour? What are the problems that are going on in that person’s life? Not to excuse but to understand. We need all our public agencies working with local residents to this end.
And the bottom line is that we need to challenge the lies, myths and ignorance on which prejudice is based. We do this best by presenting a positive alternative. By insisting that our strength as a community, as a country, comes from our difference as much as our sameness. That our common humanity is made more interesting, more complete by our diversity. In the months to come, I’ll be working to celebrate the wonderful diversity of Edinburgh and to build hope, solidarity and confidence across the entire community.
Written for Edinburgh Evening News - 28th February 2020
Time is running out for many of Edinburgh's small businesses. Today I've written to the Chancellor asking for additional emergency assistance for our hospitality sector through the COVID-19 epidemic.