Polari talks to Mark Healey about the history of the 17-24-30 group and their planned events for National Hate Crime Awareness Week.
The group 17-24-30 was founded in 2009 at the lead up to the tenth anniversary of the London Nail bombings & takes it’s name from the dates of the three attacks. For those who are unaware of the group’s work, What were the aims of the group and have they changed in any way over the past 3 years?
17-24-30 started as a Facebook group in response to the proposal that the annual act of remembrance in St Anne’s Garden should end with the 10th anniversary in April 2009. Many of us felt that the services should continue as long as those involved wanted them to continue and that the community had a duty to do more to support those affected by what happened. Since then we have helped Craig Taylor (Manager of the Admiral Duncan and Duke of Wellington) to organise the events – we make sure the gardens are booked to stay open late, help organise the service and liaise with the local authorities (St Anne’s Church, Westminster Council and the Metropolitan Police to make sure that everything runs smoothly). I think what we have done over the past three years is take on the role of facilitating the events, making sure that the community knows that they are taking place and that everyone who wants to come along is made welcome. It certainly seems that more people are attending the services, and that some of the survivors and their friends and families feel less isolated than they felt before because we are there for them.
I think what has changed, since we held the first London Vigil against Hate Crime in October 2009 (after the death of Ian Baynham) is that our work has become more widely known. People know what 17-24-30 stands for and that we are serious about tackling hate crime in our communities. Using social networking tools like Facebook, Twitter and WordPress we have helped establish an International Day of Hope and Remembrance for those affected by Hate Crime working in partnership with organisations like the Harvey Milk Foundation (which takes place on the Saturday before Halloween weekend), with the London Vigil against Hate Crime taking place in Trafalgar Square whilst other Solidarity Vigils take place around the UK and abroad.
We’ve started the process of evolving from a Facebook group into a small voluntary community-lead charity, slowly building up our resources so that we make a bigger difference, helping other community organisations and activities get established. I am proud that we have been able to lend equipment to support LGBT History Month, Dyke March and Pride London and hope that we will continue to be in a position to do this.
Since founding the group, how has the change in government and the ‘economic crisis’ affected the work that the group is trying to do?
Strangely I don’t think that the change in government and the ‘economic crisis’ have affected us directly as an organisation because we have never been dependent on the government or external funding like other organisations in the voluntary sector. We have kept our running costs to a minimum whilst raising the funds we need through donations and organising successful fund-raising events. What is noticeable is the lack of work that is being done by other organisations because funding has dried up. Look at the lack of information about hate crime in the bars and clubs, when was the last hate crime reporting campaign run – it seems that a lot of hate crime work has been put on the back burner whilst resources have been allocated elsewhere especially during the Olympics. Our job has not changed – we want to get the focus back on tackling all forms of hate crime.
This year there’s a series of events throughout the week. What’s on the schedule & do you have any personal highlights?
This is the first time we are organising a National Hate Crime Awareness Week 13-19th October leading up to the day of Hope and Remembrance. The idea is simple – we want to encourage people to do something local to promote their existing hate crime services. These services need our on-going support and we can help them by sign-posting them within our communities. We need to make sure that our local authorities know how much we value these services and that we are prepared to do what we can to support and defend them.
The main highlight for me is the Act of Remembrance we are holding in St Paul’s Cathedral on Saturday 13th October. As far as I am aware this is the first time the Cathedral have hosted such an event. The service will be lead by Cannon Mark Oakley, then after a reading form the book of revelations there will be three reflections; Beverley Smith Hate Crime Disability Network, Phyll Opoku Black Pride Uk and myself 17-24-30. A candle of Hope and Remembrance is going to be lit by Carolyn Moore (sister of Nik Moore who was killed in the Soho bombing) which will burn in the Middlesex chapel in front of painting “light of the world” for the duration of the week. 30 people are being invited to light candles to symbolise different communities coming together as one to tackle hate crime.
But I’m also excited about the opportunity this is presenting to others organising their own events. Mencap and the British Transport Police are organising stalls at Victoria and Waterloo Stations focusing on Disability Hate Crime, Tower Hamlets Council No Place for Hate team and their Met LGBT Liaison Officer have a stall at their Idea Store in Whitechapel, whilst Hackney LGBT Officer is holding Hate Crime surgeries at Chariots Sauna, Shoreditch.
Details of these events can be found on our 17-24-30 No To Hate Crime Facebook Events Page. We are currently in talks with the LGBT Consortium to help set up a Hate Crime Awareness Calender to help promote local Hate Crime Awareness events.
Are there any specific aims for this week’s events?
The main aim of the week is to give people the confidence to do something to promote their local hate crime services. It can be a simple as posting links on social networking sites to help sign post anti-hate crime organisations like Galop, Stop Hate UK and Hope Not Hate, making sure that leaflets and posters are available in places where people can access them, organising information stalls and hosting a variety of awareness raising events. In the current economic climate it would be good to see local bars and clubs hosting fund-raising events.
The first Vigil against Hate Crime was held in Trafalgar Square 3 years ago, and many saw it as a clear response to the Homophobic attack that resulted in the death of Ian Baynham. Many people are lucky enough not to have experienced hate crime in their life and see these events as having little relevance to themselves, what would you say to them to try to persuade them to get involved?
Are most people lucky enough not to have experienced hate crime in their lives? Unfortunately I don’t think that is the case. The way we live today, with the Internet and social networking I believe that people are more aware of what is going on around them than ever before. The ripple left by hate crime incidents around the world touches us all – which was illustrated by the thousands of people who got involved in our campaign after the death of Ian Baynham. Twenty-nine thousand people passed on the invite to our first Hate Crime Vigil back in 2009, ten thousand people joined us in Trafalgar Square and we got messages of support from around the globe.
And for those people wanting to get involved what is the easiest way that they can?
Recently police figures are showing that cases of hate crime fell across England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. (Figures fell from 48,127 to 44,519.) Although hate crime against disabled people has risen by 30%. What are your thoughts about the statistics?
I am not surprised by the drop in hate crime figures across the UK during the past six months as most of the country has been focusing on the Olympics and Paralympics. A lot of the resources that would have been focused on tackling hate crime have been diverted elsewhere so there has been less work done encouraging people to report the incidents that have been happening. For example we recently e-mailed all of the LGBT Liaison Officers listed on the Metropolitan Police website – only 50% of them responded to our nine-point survey and the majority of those that did respond indicated that they were being diverted away from their usual LGBT work. It appears the LGBT Liaison role in most of the London boroughs is poorly resourced and this is something that we want to see addressed. A 50% response is bound to have a negative impact on the statistics. Looking at Disability Hate Crime, I think that at the moment there appears to be a lot more work being done to raise awareness about this – look at the current Mencap and British Transport Campaign Stand by Me. I also believe there is a link to some of the negative rhetoric that has been used to promote the Welfare cuts and this has stirred up a lot of unjustified resentment towards disabled people.
On a personal note, earlier this year you were nominated due to your work with 17-24-30 to be an Olympic torch-bearer. What was that like?
I was very honoured to be nominated and eventually selected to carry the Olympic Flame in Lewisham on the 23rd July because of what I have done with 17-24-30. It was a fantastic experience and I carried the flame in memory of those people who have been victims of hate crime and thought that it was important to make the statement that there are people who should have been with us to enjoy the Olympics who were not with us because their lives have been cut short by acts of hate. It is up to all of us to remember them.
As an Olympic Torch-bearer I believe it’s very important to share the Olympic Torch with the people who have supported the campaign which is why I have taken my torch out and about to many events. It’s been to several Pride events – Brighton, Milton Keynes and I was invited along with other LGBT Torchbearers to lead Reading Pride Parade (and spoke in front of 6,000 about the No To Hate Crime Campaign). At the moment I’ve set myself a personal challenge to get at least 1000 photos of me with as many people as possible and my torch. I’ve used my torch to raise funds for the campaign, and promote the work that we are doing and it has given me a wonderful opportunity to engage with more people across many communities. That is what I loved about the Olympics and Paralympics – they really helped bring everyone much closer together.
Yes, there was a real sense of solidarity between strangers.
And looking ahead, I believe the best way to tackle hate crime is to get people doing things together, building a better sense of community between us. If we want to make a difference then we need to rally those we can and get on with it.