Tag Archives: Sophie Lancaster

The First Stats on Subculture Hate Crimes Are In


Photo by Flickr user fluffy_steve.

Some of you may recall the stories of Sophie Lancaster and Melody McDermott, two Manchester-area women who were beaten — one of them to death — for looking “goth.” Well, in 2013, Manchester police began coding these attacks as hate crimes, and at the end of the year they revealed their statistics on hate crimes in the region.

While the number of hate crimes against goths, emos, metalheads and others in the area is small compared to the vast number that target people based on race, sexual orientation or other factors, it’s a big step for police to recognize them at all. To call out attacks that are specifically driven by the way a person looks — and their sense of otherness — is to prevent the attacker from being able to hide behind other excuses, and it also reminds others that harming someone because they’re different isn’t acceptable. That’s especially true given that many places, including in Greater Manchester, the punishment for hate crimes is greater than for other types of assaults. This, in turn, can encourage victims to report them.

More police departments need to follow Manchester’s model and recognize hate crimes against subcultures. As the region’s crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd, told the BBC:

“The impact of hate crime extends far beyond the initial incident.

“By their very nature, hate crimes are very personal attacks that leave victims, who are often already vulnerable individuals, feeling defenceless physically and emotionally.

“Because of this, victims may be reluctant to report the crime or — worse still — may come to accept hate crime as an inevitable part of their lives.”

Is 7 years in jail enough for stomping a goth’s face?


Melody McDermott, right, and Stephen Stafford, outside the court where their attackers were sentenced this week.

Just how much jail time is enough to punish someone for pushing a stranger to the ground, kicking her, and stomping on her face?

Less than seven years, apparently.

That was the sentence for Kenneth Kelsall, the 47-year-old UK man who attacked Melody McDermott and Stephen Stafford last year on a Greater Manchester tram. His accomplice, 43-year-old Gareth Farrar, was sentenced to two years and two months.

The sentences came after a judge witnessed the attack via closed-circuit television; video has since leaked to the press. The attack comes out of nowhere, and begins and ends so quickly you’re left wondering what happened. Judge Elliot Knopf called it an “explosion of violence.” (The man who gets on the tram during the attack, and then gets off: Did he go for help? I wonder.)

McDermott survived, fortunately; other young goth women, such as Sophie Lancaster, weren’t so lucky. But McDermott’s face was so badly damaged she says she can no longer smile. Long after the attack, she suffered panic attacks on crowded trams at night.

Not having covered many UK trials, I can’t comment on how Kelsall and Farrar’s sentences compare to those in similar crimes. They both pleaded guilty, so I’m assuming the sentences were reduced. Although McDermott believes she was attacked for her goth appearance, such attacks are not considered “hate crimes” and aren’t met with enhanced punishments.

So, how much jail time is enough? Is it enough to get these men off the streets (and trams) for a few years? Will jail make them better, or worse? Will it heal McDermott’s trauma? Will it prevent other young women from being brutalized?

I don’t know the answers. I don’t know if we’ll ever know.

That said, prejudice against goths appears to be alive and well in other parts of England. Also this week, I read a post by a goth woman titled “An open letter to the Church of England,” in which she describes the discrimination she experienced recently when she went to church. She writes:

My experience has not been one of welcome but of whispering, pointing, and people generally wondering how I dared to come into their church – a recent experience involved being shaken warmly by the hand by a welcoming committee member who then turned to her neighbour, without bothering to lower her voice as I walked away, and asked “we won’t get more like that, will we?”

More than anything else, I would implore churches not to call themselves inclusive, and not to claim to be welcoming to all people and all demographics, until they have considered whether they are actually capable and willing to welcome the individuals who may then walk through the door.

I can — to some extent — not feeling wholly safe on public transit. But not feeling safe and welcome in church? Yes, church is a place where ideals and reality can be pretty different. But something seems very wrong with this picture.

How can we fix it?

Goth, metalhead beaten in separate UK attacks


Ben Moores, left, and Gena Willenberg, right, were recently beaten in separate incidents in the UK — because of how they look.

When emo and heavy metal fans are stoned to death in Iraq, it’s easier to dismiss it as something that happens “over there.”

But in recent weeks, two people have been brutally attacked in separate incidents in the UK, revealing that violent mob behavior is still happening right here.

Gena Willenberg, an American expat, was surrounded by a gang of teenagers in Edinburgh, Scotland, in late March. First came the verbal abuse: “They started shouting at me and my friend that we were f****** goths and they were going to kick our f****** heads in,” she said.

Then the physical assault began.

“We turned our back and just kept going and that was when they attacked me. One of them tried to smash a bottle over the back of my head, but fortunately it didn’t break. Then they started punching and kicking me.

“I fell to the ground and they just kept on kicking me. My friend tried to stop them from stamping on me and they attacked her, too.

“There was one girl in the group and she pulled my hair back so one of her friends could kick me in the face.”

Goths have not fared well in recent years in the UK, with attacks on Melody McDermott and Sophie Lancaster, the latter of whom died of her injuries.

Not far from where Lancaster was attacked in a Bacup, England, park, metalhead Ben Moores was recently beaten in a similar incident. The 16-year-old was was called “mosher” and “freak” as he was punched and kicked to the ground by up to 15 people behind a Co-op supermarket in Waterfoot, 2 miles from Bacup.

Moores recalls:

Clumps of his hair were pulled out and his head and wrists were stamped on. He suffered bruising to his head and body but escaped serious injury.

“When they got me on the floor I thought I was going to die. There was no stopping them – they wouldn’t let me up. I had blood all over my face by the end. When I was getting kicked and stamped in my head and on my wrists and my hair was being pulled out, there was nothing I could do. Thinking about it now makes me shiver in shock. They were only doing it because of the way I look and because I’ve got long hair and like heavy metal music.”

Seven of his attackers are currently in jail.

There are some ways to fight this. If you see a group going after an individual for the way they dress, it might not be best to get involved — but calling the police is a good idea. Walking a goth or metalhead friend home can help keep attackers at bay.

On a more meta level, you can support the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, which has a number of campaigns working to end discrimination and violence against subcultures in the UK.

A hoodie isn’t a death sentence

I want to break with form a little bit today and talk about the controversy sparked by Geraldo Rivera’s comments regarding Trayvon Martin’s outerwear choices last week. On Twitter, he said:

@GeraldoRivera: Trayvon killed by a jerk w a gun but black & Latino parents have to drill into kids heads: a hoodie is like a sign: shoot or stop & frisk me
@GeraldoRivera: His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman.
@GeraldoRivera: Justice will come to Zimmerman the Fla shooter-but I’m trying to save lives like Trayvon’s-Parents Alert: hoodies can get your kid killed
@GeraldoRivera: My own son just wrote to say he’s ashamed of my position re hoodies-still I feel parents must do whatever they can to keep their kids safe
@GeraldoRivera: Its not blaming the victim Its common sense-look like a gangsta&some armed schmuck will take you at your word
@GeraldoRivera: Critics of my hoodie comments think they’re mad at me but they’re really mad at the undeniably unfair reality of young male black/brown life
@GeraldoRivera: It hurts to be assailed-but anger doesn’t change reality-a minority kid in a hoodie in a hood not his own is a 911 call waiting to happen-

And on Fox News, he said:

“Every time you see someone stickin’ up a 7-11, the kid’s wearing a hoodie,” he said. “Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera or they get the old lady in the alcove, it’s a kid wearing a hoodie. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a “gangsta”… well, people are going to perceive you as a menace.”

I understand where he’s coming from: he’s saying that minority kids might be safer if they don’t wear hoodies, entirely due to the public perception of these kids when they wear such garments. But if they got rid of the hoodies, what would it be then? The baggy jeans? The big sneakers? The puffy jackets? The baseball caps? The bandanas? The sports t-shirts? Do we want minorities to dress like “white kids,” when even white kids don’t dress “like white kids”?

However, the fault isn’t with the clothing. It’s with our culture’s enduring perception of minorities — even kids — as criminals, as threats. And Geraldo — himself a Latino — is doing nothing in these statements to protect vulnerable kids from that perception.

It’s no different from telling goths to stop wearing black clothing and makeup, or telling Middle Eastern metalheads to wear white button-down shirts, or telling Iraqi emos to give up the skinny jeans and eyeliner — because otherwise, they’ll be beaten, arrested, or killed.

Youths, and people who “dress young,” who embrace rebellious clothing styles, have a right to do so — and to pass freely in society without the fear of attack. To say otherwise is to blame them for all who might do them harm because of the way they look. That is not where the blame belongs. And there are many things about their appearance that young minorities can’t change — things that some still perceive as automatically suspect.

By now, I hope, most people know better than to listen to Geraldo Rivera. For those who don’t, I will remind you how he fanned the flames of the Satanic Panic, which in turn destroyed many families.

Iraqi youth stoned to death after leaders link emo culture to Satanism, homosexuality


In the United States, emo is a popular youth lifestyle. In Iraq, being emo can get you killed. Photo by Flickr user MarcX Photography.

If this blog is about any single thing, it’s about the demonization of youth culture, and of any influence deemed “dangerous” when kids get their hands on it. But when we talk about such demonization in the West, it’s mostly metaphorical. When kids here take up with metal or goth culture, or they explore pagan faiths, parents might become frightened and limit those activities. In some cases they become fodder for child abuse or bullying. But children here can’t be arrested or publicly executed for such interests. In Iraq, that’s what’s happening right now.

Facts on the situation have been murky, given the nature of it. But here’s my understanding of what has happened in recent weeks:

On Feb. 13, the Iraq Interior Ministry released a statement that condemned the “phenomenon of emo” as Satanic. Emo fashions — such as dark clothes, skull-print T-shirts and nose rings — are “emblems of the devil.”

On Feb. 26, Ammar AL-hakim, a powerful Shia leader, gave a speech on YouTube in which he called emo culture a “strange social phenomena” that is “spreading among youths and adolescents of both sexes.” He urged “decent” Iraqi families to “be careful of these kinds of phenomena” because they have a “devastating influence” on the culture. He did caution people not to use violence.

However, leaflets and fliers began circulating in parts of Baghdad, warning known “emo” youth that they needed to change their behavior, which some claimed was homosexual in nature. According to the New York Times:

“Your fate will be death if you don’t quit doing this,” one leaflet warns. “Punishment will be tougher and tougher, you gays. Don’t be like the people of Lot.”

Another flier circulating around the Zayouna neighborhood appears addressed to emo youths. It tells them to cut their hair, not to wear the clothing of devil worshipers, and not to listen to metal, emo or rap music. And if they refuse, “God’s punishment will be come down upon you,” the letter says.

News broke over the weekend that a number of youth had been stoned to death. The number is unclear; at least 14, and perhaps as many as 60. Reuters claims Iraqi militia are responsible for the deaths. Although many Iraq leaders deny anyone has been killed, Reuters spoke to doctors on Baghdad who had signed the death certificates of youth who’d died of blunt-force trauma to the head. Others have been wounded, apparently as “warnings.”

The Interior Ministry said:

“No murder case has been recorded with the interior ministry on so-called ’emo’ grounds. All cases of murder recorded were for revenge, social and common criminal reasons.”

What seems to be going on is this: Iraqi leaders publicly (and falsely) connected emo culture to Satanism, and even, ridiculously, “blood-drinking.” They demonized this culture, which is essentially peaceful — it’s a youth culture that celebrates the expression of emotion, particularly through music — and another group, possibly a militia group, ran with it. They took it to an extreme place, and now young people are dead.

This is precisely why I am so adamant about fair and accurate depictions of such cultures — particularly by police and journalists. Misrepresenting goths, emos, metalheads, and pagans (among others) as criminal, as violent, or as something abhorrent encourages fear and hatred. And some people take such fear and hatred to an extreme place.

We can say such things could only happen in the Middle East, but that isn’t true. It happened to Sophie Lancaster — and nearly happened to Melody McDermott — in Britain. If we extend such beatings to situations where goth and emo culture are mixed up with homosexuality, as seems the case in Iraq, then we have plenty of examples of gays being publicly and brutally killed, chief among them Matthew Shepard.

These kids aren’t demons, and they aren’t doing anything wrong. It doesn’t matter where they live, or how they dress, or what music they listen to, or whom they love. They don’t deserve to be beaten to death in the streets. And they certainly don’t deserve to have it happen because someone in power said that these kids are evil.

I’m not sure, yet, what can be done about it. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch haven’t taken up the issue. There will be a vigil (warning: graphic images) in San Francisco Wednesday evening to express public solidarity for Iraqi youth. Please post here if you know of any others, or if you know of ways to help.

Fear leads to anger — and goth-bashing


Thirteen-year-old Casey-Lyanne Kearney was stabbed to death. Her accused killer has been called a “goth.” Not likely.

On Valentine’s Day, Casey-Lynne Kearney was crossing Elmfield Park in Doncaster, England when a woman allegedly stabbed her and left her to die.

Police, who called the assault random and isolated, arrested 26-year-old Hannah Bonser, a Doncaster resident, for Kearney’s murder and and for possession of two knives. Her trial is scheduled to begin July 2.

Even before Bonser appeared in court to defend herself, neighbors described her to the UK’s sensationalism-prone Sun as a goth:

… neighbours in Doncaster described her as having the look of “a Goth” — sporting dark hair and dark-rimmed glasses. She was said to be “addicted” to computer games.

One resident, who asked not to be identified, said: “The police were round here and they took some boxes of stuff from her flat. She was like a rocker, gothic type. She was very quiet.”

Talking to the neighbors is one of the oldest tricks in the reporter’s book. There are a variety of good reasons for this practice, but what neighbors say must always be taken with a grain of salt — these days, many people don’t know their neighbors particularly well, or may even have conflicts with them that drive them to say things they shouldn’t.

Not only are those descriptions very vague and patched-together, they don’t really describe an actual goth. (And, you can see in the court link, Bonser doesn’t look particularly goth.) Most of the time, it takes more than dark hair and “dark-rimmed glasses” to identify a goth. (Also, nice how the slipped in the “video games” angle too, eh?”)

More than that, though, these flimsy descriptions reinforce the false idea that goths are a remotely violent group. This idea, popularized after the Columbine High School killings in Colorado in 1999 (committed by two young men who were also falsely identified as goths), has been tough to shake. People outside the goth culture see the black hair, theatrical makeup and clothing, piercings and studs, and assume their fear of such an off-putting appearance must mean goths are aggressive. In fact, the most aggressive thing about goths is probably their appearance. Religioustolerance.org notes, “Goths tend to be non-violent, pacifistic, passive, and tolerant.”

Often to a fault. In fact, goths are much more often the victims of violence, as in the cases of Sophie Lancaster and Melody McDowell, both of whom were coincidentally assaulted in England.

In some ways, the comments made by Bonser’s neighbors constitute another kind of attack on goths — and reveal the layers of misunderstanding and discomfort that exist against them in modern society.

When someone on UK Yahoo Answers asked why goths are so stigmatized, another responded:

Unfortunately a lot of people (especially those who live in small towns & don’t have a lot of life experience, or even those of a low level of intelligence) will always feel threatened by something that is outside their own experience and/or they do not understand.

Or, to quote a certain wise green muppet, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

When will we stop being so afraid of one another?

If you dress goth, are you asking for trouble?


Melody McDermott was brutally attacked on a tram in Manchester because she is a goth. She’s now recovering from a broken eye socket.

Four years ago, 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster was walking through a Lancashire park at night with her boyfriend when they were beset upon by a group of teenage boys. The teens assaulted Robert Maltby first, then turned on Sophie when she tried to protect him. Robert recovered, but Sophie died of her injuries.

This was no isolated incident. Goths throughout the UK and America face bullying and assault on a regular basis, mostly because of their appearance. In greater Manchester, it happened again last month.

Melody McDermott was riding a tram with a male friend on Oct. 5 when a group of males began shouting at her. Without warning, they pushed her to the ground and one or more began stomping on her face. She was left with a broken eye socket, but is recovering. Her friend suffered a black eye.

After Lancaster’s death, many in the goth community rallied in favor of calling such attacks hate crimes — until then, a “hate crime” only included an attack based on race or sexual orientation. According to Wikipedia, In May 2009 the Justice Minister Jack Straw said while he could not change the law, he could amend the sentencing guidelines to require judges to treat an attack on a member of a subculture as an aggravating factor.

Although the Columbine High School shootings mistakenly convinced many that goths are aggressive, most are actually so pacifistic that they will not fight back when assaulted. Their combination of unusual appearance and unwillingness to hurt people unfortunately makes them vulnerable.

Since the attack on Melody, goths from all over the world have come forward to talk about members of the subculture as recurring targets for violence. “When is this hate and bullying going to end?” asked one woman. “My 9 year old gets picked on just ’cause she had brain cancer and me and her dad are goth.”

“This shows how important it is to class sub-culture to the list of hate crimes,” said another. “If they had beaten her for being gay/black/muslim they would get jail time for sure, but because she’s just a girl in black clothing, they will get off with a fine/community service. I am so sick of this.”

Unfortunately, such attacks leave others frightened: “Every time there’s a hate crime, I’m a bit more scared to go out. It’s shocking just how far some people will go. I’m scared to walk alone and I’m 20.”

But others championed Melody and wished her strength: “I hope Melody comes through this even stronger than before, and that she realises that they only hate because they don’t have the guts to express themselves like she has.”

What’s the solution here? Can we teach people not to bully and assault others just because they’re different? Should goths “tone it down” to make themselves less vulnerable?