G2: Hideously Diverse Britain Streets need rules. So does the internet
(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jack Gilbert points out the crime scenes. "I saw them there and there," he says. Stickers proclaiming a "gay-free zone". Fifty-odd in the London borough of Tower Hamlets over three weeks in 2011. Society meted out its punishment and one of the men responsible was convicted. Just a pounds 100 fine, but it sends a message. The public realm is shared space and if we are to rub along, there must be rules about what happens there. No one group owns the public realm.
It has been a challenging and heartening time in Tower Hamlets as battles over rights and space have played out on the streets, in the courts and in the media. Not just those stomach-churningly homophobic stickers, and well-publicised attempted incursions by the English Defence League, but also the street patrols mounted by extremists citing Islam as justification. Last week three men were jailed, having told one couple they couldn't hold hands as they were in a "Muslim area". A group of men drinking in the road were assaulted. A woman who dressed as she pleased was told she would face "hell fire". Much of it appeared on YouTube.
The heartening thing, says Gilbert, of Rainbow Hamlets, the local Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender agency, was the way everyone took a stand.
"It's fantastic that the communities worked together and the police worked with the communities, and the council supported. There is a model there to be learned nationwide." And the fact that people were tried and sent to jail soundly resonates. "It has given the communities confidence. These outcomes are serious deterrents."
Yet there is a further point, for this was an old-fashioned resolution to a 21st-century problem. One man was convicted for placing hateful stickers on public surfaces, three others for spreading physical fear and harassment on the streets. We can cope with the spreading of hate and fear on the streets, but what about the public arena that is the internet? "These patrols became a national issue because material went online, but that wasn't dealt with at trial," says Jack. "An incident on a single street is important, but it's the spreading of hate online that we really have to get to grips with."
It's a shared cyber space. Don't people have the same rights there as anywhere else?
(c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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