Disabled Leeds sportsman speaks out against hate crime

“I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced any hate crimes, but I’ve had more incidents than I can remember.”

By Ria Taylor

Hate crimes against people who live with disabilities across the country are increasing at an alarming rate, according to recent statistics.

Figures show that between 2015/16 to 2016/17, there was a 53% increase in disabled hate crimes recorded by police in England and Wales – the largest percentage increase across all five strands of hate crime.

James Simpson, an amputee from Leeds, said that he “never even knew there was a difference between a hate crime and a hate incident”, and admits that he has been victim to many incidents himself.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced any hate crimes, but I’ve had more incidents than I can remember.”

Mr Simpson became disabled at the age of 23 whilst serving in the Army.

“I stepped on a bomb in Afghanistan in 2009,” said Mr Simpson. “I went from being really fit and active to lying in a hospital bed for months, slowly learning how to walk again. I had fears about going out in public.”

Now a wheelchair rugby league player for both Leeds Rhinos and England, Mr Simpson said that as he’s grown older, he’s learned not to let hate incidents get the better of him.

“If someone says something to me now, it sort of goes over my head,” he said. “But I think back to the 23 year old me, with no legs, and then I imagine being 15 or 16 – disabled, missing a leg – and someone saying something to me. It’s going to knock you and make you feel alone.”

Ria Taylor stood with policeman holding up sign for Hate Crime Awareness Week.

British Transport Police are just one of the organisations getting involved with Hate Crime Awareness Week, which runs from 13-20 October.

A hate crime, or incident, is any action or behaviour motivated by hatred and prejudice. This can include:

  • Race
  • Religion or faith
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity

Kev Brighton, Hate Crime Coordinator for Leeds, believes that the rise in disabled hate crimes is because people are more willing to report incidents of violence and hatred.

“I’m expecting figures to continue to rise,” said Mr Brighton. “As they were very low when we first started the Hate Hurts campaign. People are getting more and more confident to speak out about hate crime.”

Mr Brighton went on to say that “it’s not about criminalising people, it’s about educating them,” in order to tackle hate crime in general.

“Prejudice is there, and it will always be there. Just have respect and show a bit of compassion.”

Members of the public and West Yorkshire Police at the launch of 'Hate Hurts' event for Hate Crime Awareness Week.

West Yorkshire Police promoting their ‘Hate Hurts’ campaign at Millennium Square, for the launch of Hate Crime Awareness Week.

In most cases, compassion really is all that’s needed. Mr Simpson revealed that he often fell victim to hate incidents when simply trying to park his car.

“A lot of experiences I’ve had have occurred when I’ve used disabled parking bays,” he said. “Because I became disabled in my mid 20’s, a lot of people would say ‘You’re so young, why are you using disabled parking?’ I’d often get out of the car, and someone would be there having a go at me.”

Mr Simpson even said that he’d been asked to get out of a lift to make space for a mother pushing a pram.

“A few weeks ago I was down in London, at Wembley, and a woman with a pram got in the lift before me. The doors were closing, then they reopened, as there was another woman pushing a pram who wanted to take the lift.”

“I asked her if she’d like to try and squeeze in,” said Mr Simpson. “Then, the first woman with the pram turned to me and said: ‘Well, you should really get out, as she has a pram.’ When she realised that I had two prosthetic legs, she was really apologetic and said she felt terrible.”

“But it shouldn’t have to get to the point where you have to say something.”

About the Author

This article was produced by a student or students on the BA in Journalism at Leeds Beckett University.

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