Derry children being subjected to vile racist attacks : Mothers speak out

Two Derry mothers have spoken of how a sickening catalogue of racist abuse is having a devastating impact on their mixed race children and their wider families.

Wednesday, 11th March 2020, 7:00 am
Independent Derry City & Strabane District Councillor Gary Donnelly and Kat Healy from the Migrant Centre NI.

The local women have called for systemic reform in housing, education, health and enforcement due to the ongoing torment and intimidation their young families are enduring.

The mothers, both of whom live in the cityside, have each told the ‘Journal’ that the problem was rife in Derry, with their children called everything from ‘black b*****ds’ to the ‘n’ word, and some of the youngsters have also suffered physical attacks.

One of the young mothers described how bananas were thrown at her home by teenagers who have consistently targeted her family. She said she was also horrified when social services arrived out of the blue to her home to investigate after she had a baby girl by her partner, who comes from Africa, to see whether the child could be at risk of female genital mutilation. The case was closed recently but she said the entire process had been traumatic and invasive.

The other mother’s son was attacked by youths in a fast food restaurant by a gang shouting ‘White Supremacy’. In that incident her son came home breathless and was followed by the gang, who were from surrounding areas, who then began repeating that he was a ‘n’ and ‘black b’ when the boy’s mother challenged them. He has also been forced to the ground and threatened with a pellet gun by youths calling him the ‘n’ word.

The two Derry mothers said they are now desperate to escape the areas where they are living due to racist hate crime and the traumatic impact the racism is having on their children, their partners and themselves.

However both local women said they do not believe their cases are being treated with the urgency or severity merited by the housing association, or indeed the police.

Fighting back tears, one of the women, whose children range in age from a baby to a teenager, said the problem has persisted for years. “At the start, if they weren’t getting along in the street and I went out to say anything, they would be like ‘shut up, your black wain this or that’. Then I took them to a fun day in a different area and the same boys from my area were there, and they had to be told to leave. My wee boy was two and they came over and were shouting stuff at him. Then a few years later it started getting a bit more intense. I’ve seen an adult, a mammy coming out and referring to my child as a ‘black b***ard’.

“I never would have thought growing up in Derry there would be so much racism. You would have heard more about Catholic and Protestant growing up. In my house we were very accepting of different cultures and I always thought people were accepting of different skin colours because we were brought up that way.”

The mother broke down as she told how her eldest son was forced by a gang on to his hands and knees, while they called him the ‘n’ word and told him they were going to shoot him in the head with a pellet gun.

Describing the incident at a local fast food restaurant, she added: “My wee boy was called a ‘n’ word, ‘black b***ard’ on their premises after paying for food. They know he comes in there all the time. And he was asked to leave the premises. My son is not streetwise, they know he is local. They could have kept him in there and got my number and phoned me but they threw him out to a pack of wolves. They have a duty of care on their premises.

“He arrived home breathless and when I went out to them they were shouting the same words and ‘white supremacy’. White supremacy at 13 years of age. Where do you hear that?

“Every incident that happens now I report because I’m terrified it is going to reflect on my own children if they ever snapped. It’s all going to build up inside them and we all have a breaking point. I’m petrified if they ever get into trouble and it comes back on them,” she said.

The children have felt so isolated and estranged that one son even asked how he could make his skin white when looking at photos. “I want them to be successful and happy but how are they ever going to get to that place when people are telling them they are ugly because of the colour of their skin, the texture of their hair or they’re this or they’re that.”

She said one of her sons was afraid now someone was going to pull a knife of him. “We’re white we have no idea what they are going through. Recently when he is going to get the bus he feels older people are looking at him, staring at him.”

The mother of three is currently in a two bed house but said the Housing Association who run the estate where she lives have failed to offer her a suitable alternative, and have instead offered her a flat. “I think it’s a joke,” she said. “I’m already in a house. In my head I can’t comprehend why I’m being penalised. It’s like a workload that somebody doesn’t want to deal with and that is children’s lives and you don’t want them to be another statistic.”

She has also suffered panic attacks herself because of what her children are suffering.

The other local woman, whose children are very young, has also seen her own mental health impacted and she has been put on anxiety medication as a result of the abuse her family is suffering. She said: “Mine started with bananas getting thrown in the house, then banging on the windows and the doors. They shouted to my mammy, ‘Them wee monkeys belong in the jungle’ when she was getting them out at the car one day. Then I had a man threaten me telling me to keep police out of the area because I reported every incident.

“I’m shocked by the racist abuse. My children are very young so I had no experience of it before. It’s really loud banging they’re doing at the windows and doors, so if my daughter hears the hoover or hairdryer she is running up my leg. Any loud bangs - there’s a ramp outside and every time a lorry goes over it she is running squealing up to my arms.

“One day I couldn’t stop my baby crying for two and half hours. He had been laying sleeping in the chair under the window when the windows nearly came in on top of him.”

She said she now cannot sit in her own home during the day. “I have to be out from morning to night, just there to sleep. I won’t keep my car there and I’ll sit with the blinds closed when I am there. It’s terrifying. I’ve spent a night in A&E thinking I was having a heart attack and it turned out it was anxiety. I have never experienced that before.”

She said the same housing association seemed to be dragging their heels on alternative accommodation. “Every time I phone up my housing officer says ‘but is it still happening?’ I don’t think they are taking me seriously at all. If a drug dealer got a threat he would be housed tomorrow.”

She said the house they are trying to get her to take is in a terrible state of disrepair but they won’t do the work needed to make inhabitable. “I did my own house from top to bottom, I’m still in debt paying for it, but it’s not safe for us to live there now.

“I thought about moving out of Derry altogether. I’m born and bred here and never lived anywhere else, but I can’t live much longer the way I’m living. It’s a crisis situation,but they are not treating it as a crisis.”

And it’s not just the repeated attacks and the response from the housing association that has proved a cause of concern for the families. They believe the problem of racism is widespread and that there is also a systemic need to address attitudes towards it across the housing, health, policing and justice and education sectors.

The mothers agree that police, although they come out and take statements, could follow up and do more to stop the problem and support convictions.

“It’s a problem in society as well. My partner would be accused of being a drug dealer, people asking him for drugs, because he is black. To my face my wains would be referred to by people as coloured and half caste and I think they are very racist words. Adults are saying that to me about my wains,” one of the mothers said, adding that more education needed to be delivered in schools on equality and diversity. ”The teachers should bring it into the curriculum. Nobody’s born racist.”

The other mother agreed. “I haven’t heard of one school where police have gone in to talk about racism,” she said, adding that education in the home was also vital. “It’s a lot harder to teach a child to walk, talk, read, than to teach them to not discriminate against somebody.

“There needs to be mental health education too. You see people growing up with mental health problems and what are my sons going to be like when they are 20 because they are not only facing the same problems that white men have, they are facing even more problems. You worry about teenagers but whenever he suffers racism there’s an added layer to that.”

They believe the rise in far right, white nationalism, including messages widely circulated on social media, often cloaked in Republicanism, was part of the problem.

“All you see on social media are things like ‘keep Ireland for the Irish’. I seen a post recently about immigrants getting a house quicker than homeless people. You don’t know anybody’s situation. People also assume somebody is an immigrant but they might have been born and lived their whole life here. City of Culture? Sometimes you think the only culture it tolerates is its own.”

Independent Derry City & Strabane District Councillor Gary Donnelly, who has been assisting both families, said: “What is happening to these children and their families is every bit as ugly as sectarianism, but for some reason there’s a perception it isn’t given the same urgency.”

He added: “Parents have a duty to prevent it and to talk to children. If these children could see the devastation that it is causing not only to that child but their families, if there was any decency in them they would think twice about doing it. It’s getting that message out that when you engage in slurs like that this it has a far reaching and deep and devastating effect on people on the receiving end and their wider family circle. This is an issue for everybody, and housing associations too, need to be stepping up to the mark. This is every bit as evil and nasty as sectarianism. There are issues with housing associations, and there are issues with perceptions that black people get housed first but these were people who were settled in their homes and racism visited them and has had a devastating effect. They are being forced out in order to look after themselves and their children. They would be quite happy to live where they are if they were not routinely subjected to racist attacks.”

Kat Healy from the Migrants Centre in Derry said that racist attacks were not uncommon but that many people were too terrified to speak, especially those who did not have families living locally. “It’s worse now than it was 20 years ago which is ridiculous. 20 years ago people would have been asking ignorant questions and if you corrected and challenged them they would have changed. Now there is this stubborn arrogance and it is with this rise of the far right and white nationalism right across the world that people think it is acceptable. It is absolute racism. The housing association needs to sort this out. The system isn’t fit for purpose if this is what is happening.”