A few ways to be an active bystander

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It’s a tense time in post referendum UK at the moment. Alongside the economic uncertainty and political scrabble for power, the result of the advisory referendum has been seen by some people who harbour xenophobia and racism, as an excuse to act violently or aggressively towards some people. You’ve may laugh at a man’s 10 second tongue-in-cheek skit of him looking anxious and waving his British Passport to prove his nationality, but the clip isn’t far from the truth. I myself was forced to present my passport or driving licence at a place of work the day after the referendum (by a security guard who had seen me go out for lunch 20mins earlier) for no reason. Well actually the reason they gave me when I complained was that “security is on high alert” and that I, a 5’2”, slight female in a rather elegant tailored dress, posed some sort of threat…a threat that seemingly no other visitor posed that day. So I was forced to show my ID, not because he was cross referencing my identification against some list (they’re not very organised, they had no lists) he just wanted to intimidate me.

Anyway. I have very lovely friends, and one of them this week said “What I hate about the Brexit is the sharp rise in racist attacks/racially motivated hate speech and having to figure out what to do should I witness hate speech, and whether intervening would mean endangering myself as well.” And I figured that there are lots of lovely people who feel exactly the same way but feel powerless, or as though it’s not their place to do anything about it. So I wondered if there were any practical ideas on what to do to stop yourself being a passive witness or bystander because it’s not good for your self-esteem if you witness a crime and you spend the following days thinking you should have done something about it.

So what do you do if you encounter a situation like that? The main thing to remember is that racists and xenophobes are not rational people. Don’t put yourself in danger but try and be supportive of the victim if you can.

Capture it on video

If the incident is happening, it’s all very well and good to tell you to take a video but it might be over before you know it. So what steps can you take to make sure you’re camera ready? Most of us have smart phones in our pockets but have you ever tried to load the video camera quick enough to capture a moment? You have to unlock the screen, open the camera app, change from camera to video and all these steps can seem to take forever if you’re not used to it. Once the video is recording, the moment is gone. Plus who looks down at their phone when someone is attacking someone? Someone trying to record it the incident, that’s who. Which, if noticed, could put you in the attackers sights.

The easy step is to practice loading your video camera as quick as possible with barely a glance in a public place. Someone picking their nose? Camera! Dog on the train? Camera! Turn it into a game until you become a master. If someone notices what you’re doing, you lose the game.

The tech savvy know that there’s always a better way of doing it. Say you have your video rolling and someone notices it either by catching a glimpse of your screen or maybe a reflection in a window. Again, that might put you in danger. So record on the sly…with an app that records in the background and lets you load other screens at the same time. This is a tip for Android users as I’m assuming an iPhone won’t let you do this and I have no idea about Windows phones.

I have been trying out Background Video Recorder (Free)

The app records in the background so no one would notice you’re filming. It even carries on recording with your screen off. So if you’re spotted and the aggressor asks if you’re filming them then you can show them a blank black screen without hesitating. To be super-duper discreet, shoot from the hip. This also gives the added bonus of making them look like they have a double chin which will be very funny on the news.

If you need to load the interface it just looks like a stop clock but menus expand to show you the gallery, settings and options for trimming your videos and exporting them. There’s even a widget that you can use to start recording with one touch from your home screen. So there’s no excuse now to tell me there’s something really strange/funny/interesting/important happening and that you’re not taking a video. If there’s a man outside your window doing a jig with a cat on his head playing the trombone then you should be filming it.

If it’s still not quick enough, then you coooouuuuld install a lock screen app and set it as a lock screen widget. Although knowing me, I’d end up recording the contents of my handbag until the memory was full. You could also install an app that allows you to launch an app by shaking the phone. There are many of these but they’re not the most secure as once you (or someone else) has launched the app then you can close the camera and and use your phone as normal.

Confuddle them

But what if they’ve picked on you? You’re sitting on the train, minding your own business, watching Netflix on the patchy train wifi and all of a sudden you’re being told to “go back home”…when that was why you’re on the train in the first place. My favourite tip comes from Derren Brown who suggests using a verbal form of forcing an adrenaline dump in your opponent. I guess it’s the human form of prodding a cat in the ribs to stop it hunting your feet. Babbling nonsensical sentences at your aggressor will leave them confused and the adrenaline they’ve built up will have nowhere to go. The adrenaline comedown might even leave them in tears like a talent show contestant after a tense public vote.

Report it

If a situation is happening and someone is in danger or needs medical attention, call 999. If it’s less urgent, the police 101 non-emergency service would be a better option.
If you don’t want to call the police but you do want to report a hate crime or hate incident, True Vision is a police funded web site which provides information on hate crimes. They even have a comprehensive list of ways to report hate crimes and information on third party organisations that you could contact as well as methods to report incidents online.

Be nice to the victim

I feel like I need to expand on this tip but there’s not much more to say. Be nice to the victim, be nice to everyone…apart from the villain, don’t be nice to the villain.

Have I missed anything out? What are your tips on staying safe?