Letter: Racial harassment: intolerance and the limits of the criminal law

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your report on the London Research Centre's findings is truly depressing. So alas is the Commission for Racial Equality's response. The creation or abolition of criminal offences needs to follow, not lead, change in social attitudes if it is to work. The campaign for a new offence of 'racial harassment' when there is no social will to condemn racism is to offer black and Asian Britons a false hope. It will inevitably be followed by disillusionment and further retreat on their part into separatism.

Probably, of the acts described, only verbal abuse is not already covered by the criminal law. Such abuse is almost never witnessed: it is one person's word against another's. And when does such abuse amount to harassment? In my career as a public servant, I have been called a 'nigger lover' (by a not-quite-sober council tenant) and 'someone who gives undue weight to the needs and aspirations of ethnic minorities' (by a senior councillor). I know which of them I thought to be the more dangerous racist, and I imagine the commission would too, but somehow I do not think a new criminal offence would get the right one.

Yours faithfully,


London, W2