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‘Thousands of little incidents’ - Teens speak out on racist abuse in coastal town

PUBLISHED: 14:53 01 July 2020 | UPDATED: 14:53 01 July 2020

Ben and Hannah Mensah are speaking out about the racist abuse they have received in Lowestoft Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Ben and Hannah Mensah are speaking out about the racist abuse they have received in Lowestoft Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Two teenagers who have endured countless instances of racist abuse since moving to a coastal town have urged people to direct hate into making postive social change.

Ben and Hannah Mensah are speaking out about the racist abuse they have received in Lowestoft Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNBen and Hannah Mensah are speaking out about the racist abuse they have received in Lowestoft Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Hannah Mensah, 19, and her 17-year-old brother Ben, from Lowestoft, say they are targeted going about their everyday life, from walking through the town centre to visiting nightclubs, based solely on the colour of their skin.

The teenagers have spoken out after a spate of racist incidents reported in the town in recent months, with a brick thrown at one man before a man and a woman were verbally abused in separate incidents.

Mr Mensah said: “Sometimes you will go for long spells without anything happening, but then there are quite a lot of random, isolated incidents.

“Sometimes I can be in the town centre and things are shouted at me. I made eye contact with someone once and he started shouting abuse. There are just thousands of little incidents.

The teenage student says it is different people directing the abuse each time.

He said: “Most of the time, the perception is that it it these racist people who go out of their way to do something, but really it is mainly people who have anger for the world.

“I am sure people shout at each other, but they always seem to bring my skin colour up.

“People seem to view it as an insult to say you are black, as though it compounds their anger towards you.

“If it was the same person repeatedly then I would go to the police, but it is all different people and with some, like a time I was being chased by someone, you don’t get a good look and don’t feel like you have enough information or evidence to denounce someone.

“We almost live in a culture where it is easier to do nothing about it just because you are still alive.”

A Freedom of Information request to Suffolk Police in March revealed 625 racial or religious hate crimes had been reported in the county in 2019, a slight fall from 678 in 2018, although higher than the 601 reported in 2017.

The family moved to Lowestoft six years ago from Cheshire, but Mr Mensah’s sister has also had similar instances of abuse.

Miss Mensah said: “As a girl, I have had a lot less, but I have still experienced it since I moved to Lowestoft.

“There is only a small minority of black people living here, and at times I have been viewed as a sexual object.

“People in nightclubs or in the street, sometimes three times my age, would say they would like to try a black girl.”

While the situation has been particularly highlighted in Lowestoft following the three separate incidents reported and publicised by Suffolk Police, it comes amid an international focus on the issue of racism following the death of George Floyd in the United States.

Miss Mensah said: “I think the last few weeks have made people more aware racism still exists, but I don’t think it has achieved anything.

“People are scared to show it at the moment because they are trying to prove they’re not racist, but it is still going on.”

Around the world, protests have been held to show support and solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement, including a protest held in Lowestoft.

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The Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth branch of the Stand Up to Racism campaign group have also held protests to show racism will not be tolerated in the town following the first two of the three latest incidents.

A protest was also held in Great Yarmouth on Monday, June 29, after Norfolk Police confirmed a man in his 50s was verbally abused and pushed by a group of up to four men on June 22.

Mr Mensah said: “Regardless of how much acceptance you get from friends or everyday people, there are still very big differences in our life experiences and there is always going to be that background difference in how we are perceived.

“The statistics show, compared to white people, we earn less, are more likely to be stopped and searched or be arrested.

“It never quite leaves the back of your mind.

“I just want them to acknowledge their prejudice. Everyone is caught up in this massive race and desperate struggle to show they are not racist because they’ve got black friends and assume that means they can’t be.

“They don’t necessarily move towards eliminating it.

“I want there to be more education about how to solve the problem, not necessarily just in schools.

“All the hate and prejudice could be directed into something really positive for genuine social change but if it stays as it is then not a lot is going to change.”

Incidents

Three incidents have been reported to Suffolk Police in Lowestoft in recent weeks.

On May 4, at about 3.30pm on Rotterdam Road, a man in his early 40s was approached by a gang in their late teens, before being punched in his ear and having a brick thrown at him while racially abusive comments were made.

One of the teens was described as a white boy, with short brown hair and wearing a grey Armani tracksuit, while another boy, also white with short brown hair, was of large build and about 5ft 9ins tall.

On May 29, a person was verbally abused by another group of teenagers, described as being in their mid-teens, in Fen Park on Southwell Road.

One teen was wearing a black hoodie, while another had a mousey brown crew cut, officers said.

Officers have confirmed enquiries have been completed and the investigation finalised, but will be reopened if new information comes to light.

A second incident was reported on Rotterdam Road on June 18, at around 2.30pm, when a woman in her 40s was approached by an unknown man on his bike who shouted a racially abusive comment before cycling away towards Marham Road.

The cyclist, described as white, in his late 30s to early 40s and of slim build, was wearing a dark blue waterproof sports coat with white writing, knee-length grey shorts, trainers, a black beanie hat with white on the front and a blue surgical mask.

He was riding a BMX-style bike with a black frame and bright orange handlebars.

Enquiries into the two Rotterdam Road incidents are still ongoing, a police spokesperson has confirmed.

Anyone with information is urged to contact officers on 101, quoting crime reference 37/24736/20 (May 4), or 37/33912/20 (June 18).

Alternatively, call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.


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