A pledge to tackle racism was agreed by Thanet councillors last night (December 10) and will now go forward to Cabinet members for consideration.
The anti-racism motion was put forward by Broadstairs member Cllr Aram Rawf, asking that: “Thanet council notes the mood for change amongst the community to defeat racism. In recent months Thanet has seen two peaceful, socially distanced, community led marches in support of the cause of anti-racism.
“The council also notes that:
- Nationally there has been a surge in hate crimes since July 2016
- The council understands the importance and deep reliance we have on tourism to support the health of the local economy.
“This council believes that our future prosperity as a tourist destination is inextricably linked with our ability to stamp out the scourge of racism. This council further believes that we have a historic opportunity to shape the area into one that is attractive to all sectors of our diverse community and the wider country.”
Thanet council is likely to set up a task force and could work with local groups such as Calling Time on Racism, the People Dem Collective and Everyday Racism.
The majority of councillors voted in favour of debating and adopting the motion, there were some Conservative abstentions and a vote against by a handful of Thanet Independent Group members based, said group leader Stuart Piper, on the process used to bring the motion and a lack of relevant documents.
Speaking in favour of the move, council deputy leader Helen Whitehead highlighted that yesterday was Human Rights Day and added: “This council and administration are fully committed to tackling racism in whatever form, and in whatever context.
“We have a moral and legal duty to protect all of our citizens, and a specific moral and legal duty to protect individuals with protected characteristics as specified by the Equality Act 2010.”
She added: “The number of racially aggravated offences reported in Thanet stood at 213 in 2018. In 2019 169 offences were reported, and the last figures for the first half of this year stand at 61.
“However, one offence is too many, and offences alone do not reflect the day to day experiences of communities, and their confidence and belief in the systems that are here to support them. As such, this is an endeavour that is ongoing, and continued work and development in this area is vital.
“As is often the case, the best understanding of situations comes from the community. As a council we work with and alongside many community organisations, and we fully recognise the commitment and strength of all groups that provide support to tackle racism and strengthen our communities, both in diversity and understanding.”
Cllr Whitehead said the council would look at how working groups could be used to promote anti racism and support the wider community, including the business community, to do the same.
She added: “Racism is something that you have to live with to fully understand. Many of us in this Chamber will never experience it, and we must recognise our privilege in that, and fully consider the impact of racism, and how extraordinarily painful it must be for those who do experience it.
“But the ripple effect of racism affects all of us. If one member of our society is hurt, we are all hurt. If members of our community are not secure, and not confident in our ability to protect and champion them, then we are all weakened. If our diversity as a community is not celebrated, then our world is smaller and less rich because of it. For us to be strong as a society we need to support all members, all communities, and strengthen our understanding of each other and each other’s needs.”
Cllr Steve Albon also supported the move, giving an emotional account of the impact of racism on his granddaughter and great-granddaughter.
Describing racism and its impact as “abhorrent” and lifelong, he added: “I urge all members to fully support this motion and to insist we continue our fight against racism which is a sore on our community and a sore on our country. We should value every person no matter how different we all are.”
Cllr Piper said he did not oppose the motion but was raising a point of order.
He said: “The council was not allowed to vote and decide whether or not to adopt the motion. The motion stood referred to Cabinet because, they said, it involved an Executive Decision.
“The Members were allowed to discuss it but not vote. That was precisely why I brought the Point of Order. Those of us who opposed the debate did so, not because we disagreed with stamping out racism in all its forms, but because we were being disenfranchised.
“The Members, under the rules should have had the right to debate and even bring amendments and arrive at a solid understanding of what the motion was asking the council to do. The democratic process was abused last night largely because people were frightened of having a proper discussion for fear of being branded a racist.
“The subject and the people of Thanet deserved so much better from the elected members and senior officials and they didn’t get it. Now they are going to fudge what they have, not least because controlling what businesses do, for example, is outside their remit and we cannot change our duties under the Equalities Act 2010 because it is national legislation.”
Thanet council is already required by law to tackle racism and all discrimination of individuals with protected characteristics as under the Equality Act 2010.
Protected characteristics under the act include discrimination on the basis of age, sex, disability, race, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, religion or belief and pregnancy and maternity.