Monday September 27, 2021
By Tristan Cork
The families have been inundated with invitations to other parks around Bristol as community leaders express their outrage at Saturday's events
St George's Park play area (Image: James Beck (Bristol Live)
Community leaders have expressed their shock and outrage after a group of Somali families holding a picnic event in a local park were allegedly racially abused and assaulted.
Councillors, MPs and dozens of residents in Bristol have expressed their shock at what happened in St George’s Park in east Bristol on Saturday afternoon.
And they have rallied round the Somali community leader who organised the picnic event, which was intended to celebrate the progress being made by women in the community.
The families told police that the picnic had begun when children ‘were chased, terrorised and some parents were assaulted while calming and shielding their children’.
“We were all traumatised by what appeared to be racist and Islamophobic attack,” community leader Zahra Kosar tweeted.
“I organised the picnic to celebrate the progress and graduation 4 Horumar (Going Forward) Somali Women’s development. It was sad that the woman and children that we were empowering to contribute to the city were made to feel they don’t belong here,” added Zahra, who is a social worker, mental health co-ordinator and a commissioner at the Commission on Racial Equality in Bristol. Another local resident who was at the picnic said it was ‘terrifying’.
“It was terrifying to experience what happened today and what (was) supposed to be a family and friends fun day, turned to be a worst scenario ever,” she said. “I never felt (so) scared for the safety of my community and my children. It was (a) targeted assault no matter how much we tried to calm down the situation.”
Samira Musse, one of the founders of the Barton Hill Activity Club, said the incident was the latest in a series of problems the Somali community had in St George’s Park.
“There’s been history where Somali families (are) getting attacked in St George’s Park,” she wrote, adding that the people who were attacking the group told them that the Urban Park at Barton Hill was for them - ‘what are you doing here?’. “It feels like the park belongs to them and we should be stuck in the Urban Park and not experience other parks,” she added.
In July, an 11-year-old girl was hospitalised in a racially-motivated attack by a group of teenagers in St George's Park, and her 17-year-old sister also assaulted as she tried to defend her sibling.
This time, police were called to St George’s Park at around 5pm on Saturday afternoon and said they were called to a number of ‘minor assaults’ and public order offences. On Monday morning, they arrested a 30-year-old woman on suspicion of assault and a public order offence.
Avon and Somerset police said they are treating what happened as a hate crime, and are putting on extra high-visibility patrols since the incident.
After Mrs Kosar tweeted her report of the incident, people in Bristol have expressed their shock and disgust that the Somali community were targeted in this way, and have rallied round to send support and offers of help - many people invited the group to come to their local parks elsewhere in Bristol for a picnic.
Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy said: “I’m very sorry to hear this. I’m sure Avon and Somerset police will treat it with the utmost seriousness.”
Sandra Meadows, the CEO of leading Bristol voluntary sector organisation VOSCUR, said what happened was ‘sickening’. “I’m sorry and outraged that you and your families experienced this - traumatising for all involved,” she wrote.
“I hope Avon and Somerset police are dealing and know SARI will be on the case. We might despair but we can never give up until all citizens can enjoy our city in peace and safety.”
Abdihakin Asir, from the Bristol Somali Community Association, said ‘this shouldn’t be happening’. “Our children deserve to enjoy the very little green spaces the area offers,” he said.
Marg Hickman, who was until May this year a city councillor in Lawrence Hill, sent her love to the Somali families involved. “This is hideous and heartbreaking,” she said. “How terrifying it must have been. So very sorry that people in the city we all call home and contribute to could treat you in this way, is so unacceptable.”
New Lawrence Hill councillor Yassin Mohamud said: “The safety and well-being of Bristol’s children and families is a priority task for all agencies, and everyone of us.” And fellow new Green Party councillor Mohamed Makawi said: “This is not acceptable at all in Bristol or the UK. I urge Avon and Somerset police to act quickly. (There is) no place for Islamophobia in Bristol.”
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Bristol's deputy mayor condemned 'in the strongest possible terms' what she described as a 'racially-charged, Islamophobic assault', and called on anyone with knowledge of the incident to report it to the police.
"I was shocked to hear the news about this appalling attack and I, of course, condemn it in the strongest possible terms," she said. "St George is an area proud of its diversity; I know local residents will be as disgusted by this news as I am. Racism and Islamophobia has no place in Bristol and this should show us how necessary it is to redouble our efforts to stamp it out.
My thoughts are with them and their families in what must be a hugely difficult time - at least two parents told the picnic organiser that their small children were having nightmares as the result of the abuse they witnessed. I have reached out to the people who were assaulted to offer to support them in any way I can, and it was heartening to see the St George community reach out to them too.
"Fortunately, I understand that arrests have already been made in connection to this and I would like to thank the police for taking such swift action. Although, I would still urge anyone with any information of the incident to contact the police with the reference number 5221223956 - the perpetrators of this vile attack need to be brought to justice. I understand that following this incident, the police intend to increase high visibility patrols in the park. I hope this offers some reassurance to local residents," she added.
Police chiefs moved to reassure the public over the weekend. Chief Inspector Deepak Kenth said: “We’d like to reassure the public we are aware of this matter and an investigation into the circumstances of what happened is ongoing.
“The investigation is at a very early stage but initial enquiries suggest some of the people involved may have been known to each other and that this therefore was not a random incident. Nevertheless we are taking it very seriously and continue to treat it as a suspected hate crime at this time.
“The public can expect to see an increase in high-visibility patrols in the area in the coming days to provide reassurance. We’d urge anyone with concerns about this matter to speak with those officers who will be happy to stop and provide advice and support as is necessary,” he added.