Community members distressed following alleged racially-motivated threats toward Black woman
Meanwhile, expert says hate crimes likely to rise in wake of high-profile attack on Muslim family
Racialized community members in London are feeling anxious and worried for their safety in the wake of an alleged hate incident that came on the heels of the fatal attack on a Muslim family earlier this month.
On Wednesday, CBC London published a story about a Black woman who was allegedly threatened with a weapon and received racial slurs while outside her mother's north-east home, with her child. In a statement, London police confirmed there is an ongoing investigation into what happened. On Tuesday, police said no arrests or charges had been laid.
"I could not imagine being in the shoes of this woman and having to face something like that," said Zeba Hashmi, a Londoner who is part of the city's Muslim community.
"It's deeply, deeply disturbing.There's definitely concern, worry and fear, especially when multiple acts happen in a close amount of time. It just raises that angst and that worry among those of us who can identified as visible minorities," she said.
"That is an act of terrorism in my eyes and it was treated as nothing," said Alexandra Kane, the lead activist for Black Lives Matter London.
Both the woman who received the alleged threats and a witness said a police officer attended the scene three hours after the woman called 911 twice.
"The response from the police essentially said, 'You don't matter.' ... That's why when we go out on the streets and say 'Black Lives Matter' because you need to see us and recognize us as human beings worthy of protection and you're not doing that," said Kane.
According to the most recent data from the London Police Service, the average response time for urgent calls for a non-life-threatening crime was two hours and 41 minutes in 2020. That's an increase of 20 per cent over response times compared to 2016.
In 2020, London police dispatched officers to an average of 208 calls for service a day.
London police has not responded to a request to comment on the response time for these threats. In an email sent to CBC News on Wednesday, a spokesperson said the investigation is ongoing, but no further comment would be added at this time.
"Words matter and where there are threats they do have to be taken seriously because we just don't know what that person is capable of," said Nawaz Tahir, the chair of Hikma, an advocacy group for London Muslims.
"We've seen, unfortunately and tragically, how there are people that have enough hate inside them that they're willing to act out on that hate," he said, referring to the attack on a Muslim family, in which four members were killed and one was injured, after a 20-year-old man struck them with a truck. Police said the he was motivated by hate.
Hate crimes commonly rise after high-profile attacks, expert warns
In recent years, hate-motivated crimes in London, and across the country, have increased. An expert said it's likely that number will keep growing after the Muslim family's murder.
"I'm afraid it's quite common [to see more hate-motivated crimes], especially, after high profile event like that," said Barbara Perry, the director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, pointing to an increase in anti-Muslim violence that immediately followed the Quebec City mosque shooting in 2018.
"It's as if that unleashes some sentiment, and again suggests that these are legitimate victims, these are legitimate targets," she added.
In London, hate crimes have nearly tripled in the last four years.
A report from the London Police Services Board noted that in 2020, hate crimes spiked noticeably in the month following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by former police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minn. The increase is not necessarily a result of an increase in hate events, but potentially and increased level of public awareness that led people to report them to police, the report noted.
Perry said the increase in hate-motivated violence is caused by a mixture of things, from lack of education to the vilification of racialized people, which has been topped off with increasing distress caused by the ongoing pandemic.
"People are anxious, people are angry, so they're lashing out at available targets and we've established through negative narratives who the acceptable targets are," she said, pointing to racialized individuals.
"Some of [the violence] is reacting against the assertion of rights by Black, Indigenous and LGBTQ+ communities as well," said Perry. "When these communities become more vocal and more visible, they also are targeted by more animosity and more violence, as well as a way to silence them again, put them back in the closet, so to speak."
Both Hashmi and Kane expressed their feelings of unease as racialized individuals in the community.
"I feel safe enough. Or maybe I'm used to the uneasy feeling," Kane said. "Perhaps I'm used to driving down the road and looking out for cops and making sure that I don't step into a space where it's all white people, forcing myself to think that, 'I'm OK here.'"
"I'm more vigilant when I'm out and about walking, crossing the street. I'm more aware of my surroundings, for sure," Hashmi said.
In an interview with CBC News earlier this month, London police chief Steve Williams said the police service would be doing their part to "enhance the safety and security of every member of the community," adding that London is a safe community.