My name is Simon Green, I was recently shortlisted at the National Diversity Awards – Positive Role Model for Disabled People, I didn’t win but being nominated was a surprise and a huge honour and the winner – Rachel Gadsden fully deserved the award for the amazing and uplifting work she has done right across the UK and abroad. It was an amazing day at the awards and I got to meet so many inspirational people, many of whom I will be keeping in touch with. I very nearly didn’t attend the ceremony as three weeks earlier I lost my mother and grandmother in a tragic incident, they were the two most important people in my life, the two ladies who brought me up and made me who I am today and losing them both together devastated me and left a huge hole in my life. But after what had been the worst few weeks of my life, I had one of the best days of my life and I know they both would have wanted me to go, and I am glad I did, and I thank everyone involved at the Diversity Awards for what was a great uplifting event.
I was shortlisted at the Diversity Awards for the work I have done to raise awareness about disability related harassment and hate crime, something that has affected my life greatly over the last decade.
I am 37 years old and I have a Neurological condition called Neurofibromatosis. This has led to me developing numerous tumours inside my body and caused me various health issues throughout my life. My digestive system was mainly affected when I was in my teens and early 20s but ten years ago tumours inside my legs caused damage to the sciatic nerves and bones and I have had to use a wheelchair since 2003.
When told I would never walk unaided again I knew my life would change, I was worried that many of the things I loved doing would now be far more difficult. I wondered if I would be able to stay independent and live alone, go out drinking with friends, do my own shopping, travel, drive, get a job and get a girlfriend!
Most of my initial worries and concerns were to do with access issues, I never thought of how others may treat me. I expected to maybe be patronised and spoken down to as I had disabled friends and had witnessed this many times, but I never expected that suddenly becoming a wheelchair user would result in verbal abuse, aggression, intimidation and even physical assaults, but sadly it did.
It took me about six months to get some confidence back and to “get back out there” but it wasn’t long before that confidence was destroyed. When I was in my teens and early 20s I was a quiet shy young man who rarely went out, it took a testicular cancer diagnosis and then almost dying of a haemorrhage to make me realise you get just one life and need to make the most of it. I was now a wheelchair user, but was determined not for this to be an end of my life.
Sadly there are certain people out there who don’t like to see someone with a disability out there trying to enjoy life, and this was obvious straight away. I found myself subject to a lot of abuse, was made fun of on numerous occasions, called derogatory names like spastic, cripple, retard, got deliberately tipped out of my chair, was spat on, had drinks tipped over me and was physically assaulted. On one occasion a man in his late 30s approached me commented that the young women I was with was “far too good looking to be out with an ugly spaz” & punched me in the face.
These are the very worst examples but far worse would be the daily taunts and comments, people deliberately knocking into my wheelchair over and over again, blocking my path, acting friendly but then bending down and whispering insults in my ear, these were worse because those around me could not see it. There were no witnesses and often if I reacted, pushed the person away or got angry I would look like the instigator and be seen as the aggressive one or as a “Stroppy Cripple”.
In those early days of being verbally abused I had no idea that my bullies were committing crimes, I had never heard of the term “Disability Hate Crime”. Then one day I attended a Diversities meeting organised by South Wales Police, there a senior officer spoke about what the force are doing to combat racism and homophobia in the area, and gave examples of racist and homophobic hate crimes they had dealt with. So I raised my hand & asked “what if a disabled person gets harassed and bullied can you help then”? And I told him about some of the bullying I had suffered. “Of course you can” he replied “haven’t you ever heard of section 146 of the criminal justice act”. Well NO I had not, and how would I have known, to be honest most police officers I have spoken to since do not know what this is.
I later met this officer in person who invited me to join a local Community Cohesion group where I spoke of these problems. I now felt the need to spread the word that yes we can seek help, we can report and the police should take notice.
The issue I had now was few believed what I was saying, not wanting or not willing to believe that such things can happen, and even members of my own family thought I was exaggerating. It was only when out for a family lunch one day that my mother realised that I was far from exaggerating when a man aged around 50 on the next table turned to her and blasted that “she should not bring me out”, that he “f***ing hated the disabled and people like me should stay at home and not inflict ourselves on the rest of society”. Then when I intervened he called me a string of derogatory names, what was worse was there were at least a dozen people witnessing him abuse me and not one said or did anything, and then I got warned by staff about my behaviour when I shouted back at him.
This again is a story few would believe unless witnessed, but I wanted people to know about it and I wanted to find out if others were suffering the same. So I began to write letters, send e-mails, make phone calls to try and get the media to cover this subject, I wrote to politicians across the country but few listened! Then via a good friend at Disability Wales I was put in touch with a lady called Georgina from BBC Wales, this was apparently a subject she had wanted to cover for some time, we met for coffee and she listened to my story and was one of the first people to fully believe everything I said. Within days she offered me the chance to appear in a documentary looking into the issue of Disability Hate Crime and to share my experiences. They then asked if I would present the programme, speak to and interview other victims, I agreed straight away.
They then asked if I would be willing to wear a secret camera and venture out over a couple of weekends. It was something I wanted to do but was initially terrified, what would happen if I did capture something, would there be retributions? I would be filming in my home town and wasn’t allowed to tell anyone, how would friends feel once they found out what I was doing. While thinking about this offer I went out for a drink on a Sunday night with two female friends, while out that night a guy walked over and tried pulling the wheel off my chair and I nearly ended up on the floor, he then kicked the back of my chair very hard hurting my back and gave me a mouth full of abuse before pushing over one of the women I was with who dared to ask him to “leave me alone”.
On the same night, another man came over shouting at top of voice “stand up and be counted” over and over before bending down laughing “awe you can’t can you” and then making derogatory comments about both me and my mother. This he had done many times before!
This made my mind up, if I was to go home and tell family what had happened would they believe me? Would the police believe me if I told them? So the next day I rung Georgina and agreed to wear the camera.
The documentary was called “Why Do You Hate Me”, was shown on BBC Wales January 2010 and two months later shown across the UK on Panorama. On the first couple of nights of filming I captured a couple of “so called” minor incidents and hostility but on the third night a group of men surrounded me, one making fun saying I was “a fake”, “there was nothing wrong with me” and “I could really walk” while his mate called me a “f***ing cripple and a spaz over and over, ranted how much he hated me and said he wanted to “ring my f***ing neck”.
On both occasions the programme was shown, within hours I received thousands of messages from across the Country, some telling horrific stories of abuse, intimidation, violence and even murder, all against people with disabilities. I heard of how many changed the way they live their lives or don’t go out at all afraid of the hostility they may suffer and realised that Disability Hate Crime was far worse than even I thought.
Not everyone liked what I did, filming a group of men who all live in the same town as me resulted in further abuse, many said I was wrong to do it, family and friends of those captured felt their loved ones had been “set up”. But they weren’t, they were maybe unlucky as they picked that night to bully me and far worse has happened before and since. But I have zero regrets and would do it all again. And it was not the first time these individuals had targeted me so I had no sympathy with them.
In the three years since the programme was shown I have had the opportunity to travel across the UK and speak to many different groups and organisations and have had meetings with senior police officers, CPS officials and politicians to try get even more awareness raised and I am happy to say that while Hate Crimes still happens, there are now being far more recognised and victims are having the confidence to report more, and police forces now recognise this as a serious issue.
I have worked with or taken part in many surveys including the EHRCs “Hidden in Plain Sight” report and Race Equality Firsts “All Wales Hate Crime Research Project” – two excellent but worrying and harrowing projects that have made a huge difference in the way hate crimes are treated. I also work with the Disability Hate Crime Network, a small but hard working group set up by Stephen Brooks to look at incidents and make sure the police and CPS are taking them seriously, correctly using section 146 and to raise awareness and make sure good practice is shared.
Still though, less than one in ten hate crimes against the disabled are reported so far more work is needed, so the campaigning and awareness raising will continue.
I am sad to say that recently we have taken a massive step backwards, I feel the Governments Welfare Reforms and the verbal attacks on benefit claimants by some politicians and journalists has caused many more incidents. I hear regular stories of how disabled people, especially those with more hidden impairments are being harassed in the street, called scroungers and skivers and even wheelchair users and people with sight problems being told they are a burden and should kill themselves.
This is where much of my awareness raising is focused on at the moment, trying to encourage people, especially politicians and journalists to be careful what they say and with the language they use. I am sad to say though that this is mainly falling on deaf ears.
It’s important though that we all speak up, we all report hate crimes whoever they are aimed at and far more awareness is raised about Third Party Reporting and we educate people on Mate Crime where a vulnerable person may be befriended and abused.
I especially work hard at trying to speak to young people, get into schools and hopefully influence them young and help them understand the effects hate crime can have. I attended such a session just a week ago in a local school, and if from each of those sessions I can influence just one person not to become a future bully or just one person to seek help if they are victimized, then its well worth it.
Being targeted because I am wheelchair user was difficult to accept, anyone can be bullied but to be targeted specifically because of who you are or how you look is far more difficult to get over and destroys lives. It almost ruined mine and only a small group of close friends pulled me through it and I aim to continue to raise awareness to prevent more lives being ruined, and possibly even lost.
At the start of this year’s Diversity Awards Zita Holbourne sung out her own version of Martin Luther Kings “I Have a Dream” speech. Well I have a dream too that one day there won’t be any need to hold such ceremonies because everyone is treated equally and without prejudice and no matter what someone looks like, where they were born or who they decide to love no one gets treated with hostility and there is equality for all. It is a dream that may never come true in my life time but one day I am sure it will.
We also have a video clip, link shown below, which Simon has put together highlighting Hate Crime Awareness. In the clip Simon speaks of different case studies and his life experiences. An emotional insight into the life of a very very inspirational individual:
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