I was on the verge of writing about how Robert Mugabe has banned open-air prayer meetings in the run-up to the run-off election in Zimbabwe. Then I came across something closer to home – about 60 miles from my home.
Arthur Cunningham and Joseph Abraham were handing out tracts in Birmingham. Abraham is pastor of Grace Bible Fellowship Church in Saltley. Cunningham is also in full-time ministry. They were sharing the Gospel with four young Muslims. That’s when the trouble started – not with the young people, but with a police community support officer. PCSOs are not sworn cops, but wear uniforms and work for the local police forces. They interrupted the conversation and began berating the preachers.
When the PCSO realised that Cunningham was an American ex-pat, he started on at them about Bush and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. (The Telegraph and BBC say that both are American, but according to his church website, Abraham is Egyptian and Muslim by birth.) If it had ended there, we would just have a case of extreme unprofessionalism from a member of West Midlands Police. But, of course it didn’t.
When the preachers didn’t take his bait, the PCSO got even more aggressive. According to Cunningham, “He said we were in a Muslim area and were not allowed to spread our Christian message. He said we were committing a hate crime by telling the youths to leave Islam and said that he was going to take us to the police station.” He didn’t. PCSOs don’t have powers of arrest. Of course he knew that. He was just harrassing them.
But he wasn’t done. He decided to try and scare them away. “You have been warned. If you come back here and get beaten up, well you have been warned”. Now if the only person who was aggressive and abusive to them was the PCSO, who was threatening to beat them up? Was he going to do it? Did he have people who would?
West Midlands Police have refused to apologise to Cunningham and Abraham. Their spokeswoman said, “The investigation concluded that the PCSO acted with the best of intentions when he intervened to diffuse a heated argument between two groups of men.” She said the unnamed PCSO had been offered “guidance around what constitutes a hate crime as well as his communication style”.
So in other words, West Midlands Police acknowledges that their employee wrongly accused the preachers of a hate crime. Their investigation obviously also concluded that PCSO did not communicate in an appropriate manner. Nonetheless, they refuse to apologise.