Two days ago, the video My Tram Experience stormed newspaper and social media sites, going viral in a matter of hours. The two minute clip shows Emma West hurling racial abuse at her fellow travellers, and has racked up almost six million YouTube hits since being uploaded. The 34 year old has been arrested and prevented bail due to the risk she is now at as a result of public vitriol against her, but is it right for us to take the law into our own hands and victimise someone when she is being reprimanded for doing just that to others?
I, like the rest of the population, was disgusted that someone could be so openly discriminatory and racially abusive towards those around her. There can be absolutely no excuse for such behaviour, and it is imperative that she is reprimanded appropriately. But perhaps the worst outcome of this entire debacle is the kind of vigilante mentality it has instilled in the rest of the public, who are now openly threatening this woman. The courts most certainly do not always get things right with regard to sentencing and retribution, but it is not our place to offer West a verdict.
To some extent, people seeing the clip will hopefully serve as a warning to be vigilant against ignorance and harassment, but turning someone into a national hate figure is not an appropriate solution. We now know her name, age and where she lives, and maintaining a normal life after this blows over will be impossible for her. I am not suggesting she deserves kindly treatment, but what people are seemingly neglecting to realise is that this woman is not the sole person in the universe to verbalise such views. There is a huge amount of verbal assault directed at people due to the colour of their skin, and to suppose that this is the only person with such beliefs who will be given her comeuppance by an outraged mob is a tiny drop in the ocean of a much wider issue.
It is not only individuals with these views, but certain leading national newspapers that continue to spread racial intolerance on a daily basis. So why it is acceptable that their lack of cultural acceptance is a joke to those who disagree with it, rather than a cause for legal intervention? Headlines may word things slightly more articulately than someone using racially derogatory slang, but this does not make them any less culpable for the messages they are spreading.
As with all cases of this ilk, it highlights the dangers of free speech when it can be so violently misused. One of the most perturbing things in the video is how long West is able to rant at the other travellers before they eventually take a stand, and whilst their resilience is in some ways commendable, it also suggests that people are often allowed to get away with making such appalling comments without fear of retribution. It is somewhat ironic that this has taken place at the same time as the Leveson enquiry, and no doubt being harangued by the media will lead to West giving evidence of how her life has been made hell by the tabloids at a similar investigation in the not so distant future.
The clip makes for thoroughly unpleasant viewing, but the damage caused by West compared to the harassment she will now be subjected to is immeasurable. In many cases, I believe that the punishment should fit the crime, and whilst racial abuse should never be tolerated, making someone the victim of a national hate campaign is also ill advised. Her details should never have been released, and whilst some might question my belief she should be allowed any kind of protection when she belittled so many, educating people about racial integration and awareness is a far stronger means of preventing similar acts in the future than naming and shaming an ignorant woman.