Victims of racism in Devon share their stories

Councillors in Torbay have spoken of their personal experiences of racism.

The stories emerged during a meeting to set out plans for an inquiry into improving lives for black, Asian and ethnic minority residents.

The review was set up by Torbay Council in response to the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd in police custody in the United States in May.

Councillor John Thomas said his wife was of Jamaican heritage and had been subjected to obscene comments when they were walking hand in hand in Paignton.

He said a brother in law on a visit to Torbay was ignored by a bar worker and was told ‘I didn’t see you’ when he complained.

Two other black relatives, a doctor and chartered accountant, were regularly stopped by police in the West Midlands because they drove prestige cars.

“It is a problem that is really, really deep,” said the councillor, who was appointed vice-chair of the review panel.

He said: “I am concerned that the average white person has not got a clue what the black person has put up with.”

Cllr Cordelia Law, who is of Arab heritage, said her family had experienced racism.

She shared details of an incident when she was “swooped on” by Special Branch officers because her uncle and aunt were in “Arab clothes at a small airport”.

The council Cabinet member said a relative had been advised not to write her full name on job applications because it was Polish.

A healthcare worker who lives in Torbay but is originally from Ghana in West Africa, said his car was keyed after he made a speech at a Black Lives Matter rally.

He said he was a qualified care worker, but had applied 28 times without success for jobs in the NHS.

The worker, named as Kofe, said he had been stopped by police and asked what work he did to be able to afford his car.

He was one of several members of the public who have been added to the review panel of five councillors.

Panel chair Jermaine Atiya-Alla, Torbay’s first black councillor, said he had been targeted by a member of the public after being appointed to lead the review.

Jermaine Atiya-Alla, Liberal Democrat councillor for Ellacombe in Torquay
Jermaine Atiya-Alla, Liberal Democrat councillor for Ellacombe in Torquay
(Image: Jermaine Atiya-Alla)

The councillor highlighted an article about a visit to Torbay in The Independent from 2017, which reported seeing a bumper sticker saying “Whites Only Area”.

He said the report was “shocking” and Torbay had “definitely got an issue”.

He added: “I believe that together we can make the positive changes that Torbay needs so that it is not stuck in the time-warp of the 1950s, so that we show that we are a 21st Century modern, diverse, tolerant Torbay.”

The councillor has earlier spoken about the “hidden racism” he has experienced in Devon.

The panel agreed to go ahead with gathering evidence from the public, local authority and a wide range of organisations across Torbay.

It is the first review of its kind in Torbay and will focus on the question ‘How do we make BAME lives matter in Torbay?’, with a report expected to go to the council’s Cabinet in March 2021.

Devon Live – Devon News