Category Archives: iReport

The Portland murders and the threat to bystander intervention 

When the Portland murders hit the news this week, they were rightly shared as an example of brave defence of the rights and dignity of our fellow humans.  Too often we walk by when we are offered the chance to act on the principles we claim because those targeted are strangers, not like us, because we are busy, or scared, or unsure. 

Over the last few months I’ve been examining bystander intervention in the data we collect from, a civil society racist incident reporting system. We see again and again examples of people intervening when they witness racism. There are multiple ways in which people offer help, talking to perpetrators, mobilising other witnesses to help, reporting incidents to police or relevant persons of authority, and reassuring those targeted.  In these cases, there are examples of positive outcomes. These include perpetrator apologies, compensation for the discrimination, firmed resolve against racism in organisations and neighbourhoods, and police and other authorities held to account for the outcomes. 

The data also includes cases where the outcome was not so positive. These fall into two categories: (1) where offers of help have resulted in negative outcomes for an intervening witness, and (2) where no help was offered at all. In the first category, there are some cases of violence against bystanders who offer help and confront the perpetrator. But it is worth saying that the data shows that these are the minority of cases, and in these cases, the person confronting the perpetrator did so knowing the risk of violence, because the incident was already violent. Those people are truly brave, knowing and taking risks to their own safety to help another experiencing violence. But across all cases of violence, injuries to bystanders are few, and most cases demonstrate that perpetrators do not feel so sure about assaulting someone from their own ethnic group or who appears not to be part of the out-group. 

Far more cases fall in to the category of ‘no help offered’. Bystanders who walk by, witnesses who say nothing, sometimes paralysed by uncertainty, shopkeepers who throw out people seeking shelter from street harassment, people in authority who turn away and deny witnessing racism – all of these appear in accounts submitted to in these cases, the impact on targeted people is evident. They report feelings of isolation which result in depression and suicide attempts, fear of using public places, anxiety in everyday activities at school, work, shopping and in leisure spaces. The impact of the event, which can be minimised by individualising the perpetrator and his/her actions, is worsened significantly by the sense that the perpetrators beliefs and disposition is shared by others in the immediate environment. Cases where the targeted person reports that no one offered help are significantly more da,aging than others. In other words, it is not just racism that hurts. It’s the idea that the attitudes and behaviours might be shared and repeated by others at any time in the same context. It’s the sense that feelings of safety and inclusion are false, since friends, colleagues and neighbours cannot be trusted to stand up to racism. These are the things that truly hurt. 

There are multiple reasons why people do not intervene when they see racism. People often overestimate risk, afraid of violence. But more often we fear the disapproval of our peers, of other witnesses, even when they too are strangers. 

What we really need to emphasise is the immense positive impact of offered help, even if this is only reassurance after the event. 

Why is intervention so important? 

1. Reduction of severity and length of incidents 

2. Expression of disapproval to the perpetrator and other witnesses 

3. Reinforcement of social norms which disavow racist behaviour 

4. Express inclusion of the targeted person(s) in the group, organisation, place, society. 

5. Reduced psychological impact of the event on the targeted person(s) 

6. Reduced impact on members of the targeted group who hear about the incident later 

7. Demonstrating to other witnesses that immediate responses are possible 

8. Deterrence of future actions by perpetrator(s)

If Portland teaches us anything, it should not be that intervention can involve risks. We already know that, and it holds us back. What it must teach us is that intervention is crucial to express our disapproval, and that it matters in the current environment to resist the further emboldening of perpetrators of racism. It matters in reducing the real impact of racism on those targeted. And it matters in reminding us all that our principles mean nothing if we do not act, within our capabilities, to defend them.

#portland #endhate #stopracism #hopenothate 


Why I would not participate in the Claire Byrne Live show on freedom of speech

Statement of non-participation in the Claire Byrne Live show, 9 January 2017 by Dr Lucy Michael, Ulster University and Shane O’Curry, Director, ENAR Ireland.

 The Claire Byrne Live show on RTE on Monday 9 January intends to discuss freedom of speech. To that end, the production team invited Shane O’Curry of ENAR Ireland and I as experts on racism to participate in the programme.

This statement explains why we have not done so, and acts as a statement of record for our joint decision.

The intention of the production team in establishing this debate appears to be to cause controversy without concern for ensuring that the debate properly represents the position of the invited guests, without concern for representing the diversity of opinion in Irish society around these issues, and without properly considering that the debate centres extremist speech, giving undue exposure to commentators who put hate speech into the media.

Hate speech, of the kind published by both Nicholas Pell and Brenda Power, who will be panellists, has been well documented as producing direct and indirect harms to ethnic minorities, women and other less powerful groups. RTE, in inviting both Pell and Power to represent the defence of freedom of speech, is failing to hold extremists to account for the impact of their incitement to hatred. It also, by means of the structuring of the debate, improperly positions Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International and Rosemary McCabe of the Irish Times in opposition to an ill-informed argument for entirely unlimited freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech, like all rights, must be balanced with the harms which may arise from it, and which affect the human rights of others. Both Pell and Power argue for an unlimited right which permits the expression of white supremacist, racist and genocidal views. We believe that it is essential that these are properly named.

A balanced debate on the subject, which would adequately inform the public in Ireland, would take account of this negotiation of harms and rights, and be informed by the legal and social experiences of other democracies. It is our contention that by establishing the debate between the publishers of hate speech on the one hand, and Amnesty on the other, RTE sets out to misrepresent the available range of positions and weight of evidence in this global debate.

Throughout the day, we have made efforts to work with the production team to inform and support the preparation for this debate. We have worked closely with them to discuss the legal and political ramifications for Irish media outlets, and to provide evidence of harms arising from hate speech (which we have jointly published regularly since 2013). It was our belief that expertise on racism and prejudice was key to an informed debate of this nature, given the appearance of Nicholas Pell, and we offered that expertise. However, we were disappointed to learn late this evening that Brenda Power had also been invited to the panel. Ms. Power’s publications have previously been the subject of complaint to the Press Ombudsman for genocidal language about Travellers.

We feel that the contempt shown by both Mr Pell and Ms Power for ethnic minorities in this country should have been taken more seriously by the production team. We further believe that the production team are acting recklessly in inviting both commentators, in the privileged place of panellists, to repeat their claims. We have little faith in the production team to robustly challenge hate speech arising in the course of the programme, and we base this belief on recent failures to challenge hate speech against refugees and Muslims in December by a panellist and audience members.

It is the responsibility of the broadcaster, delegated to the production team, to ensure that incitement to hatred is not broadcast. We feel strongly that the production team have not adequately taken cognisance of their legal and editorial responsibilities in this regards and established tonight’s programme accordingly.

Like Colm O’Gorman, and Amnesty, we are strong advocates of freedom of expression. We believe that the subject of freedom of speech warrants regular and robust debate, and we remain open to engaging in those debates. We will not, however, do so where the subsequent harms to the ethnic minorities we work closely with are so evident as in this planned broadcast.

Dr Lucy Michael, Ulster University

Shane O’Curry, Director, ENAR Ireland


PDF for download: statement-of-non-participation-in-rte-claire-byrne-live-programme-9-jan-2017-on-freedom-of-speech


iReport – an online racist incident reporting tool for everyone

Since 2013, I have been analysing the racist incidents reported to the European Network Against Racism (Ireland) through its online racist incident reporting tool, This has helped to inform media and policy discussions in Ireland around racism, and has been cited in the Dail and Seanad.

Media coverage of iReport analysis 2013-2015

You can download the full series of reports and find out more about the work from the ENAR Ireland website .

Report racist incidents (whether you experienced, saw or heard about them) at