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Hate crimes have soared after Brexit vote

Patrick Ward By Patrick Ward Published on June 30, 2016

Britain's vote to leave the European Union has unleashed a wave of racist and xenophobic abuse across the country. Police have said that there has been a fivefold increase in reported hate crimes since the result of the referendum was revealed on 24 June, with hundreds taking to social media and the press to describe some of the abuse they have faced.

To begin with, here are just a few of the better publicised examples:

24 June: Laminated cards reading “Leave the EU/No more Polish vermin”, in English and Polish, were found outside St Peter’s school in Cambridgeshire.

24 June: At a branch of the Tesco supermarket in Gloucester, a man in the queue to pay began shouting, “This is England now, foreigners have 48 hours to fuck right off. Who is foreign here? Anyone foreign?” He then demanded to know where each person in the line was from.

24 June: Channel 4 News reporter Ciaran Jenkins was filming in Barnsley just after the results were declared, and heard three separate people shouting “send them home” within just five minutes.

25 June: A man is pictured in Romford wearing a T-shirt with the slogan: “Yes! We won! Now send them back”.

25 June: In Newcastle city centre, a small group of fascists and neo-Nazis from the National Front, English Defence League and North West Infidels demonstrated for deportation of immigrants. They were opposed, and outnumbered, by local anti-racists.

26 June: Racist graffiti was plastered over the entrance of the Polish Social and Cultural Association in Hammersmith, London. There has since been an outpouring of support for the centre from the local community.

27 June: Two restaurants, one Spanish and one Turkish, had their windows smashed in Lewisham, south London. 

28 June: A Halal butcher’s shop in Walsall was firebombed. A community fundraising campaign has since been launched to support them. 

28 June: Two banners reading “Eid prayer and festival” outside the University of Leicester were defaced with the words “Fuck Islam”.

29 June: A community shed in north London’s Newington Green is daubed in racist graffiti saying, “Fuck EU”, “Fuck EU scum” and “Pack your bags”.

These are just several examples, and they are by no means the most extreme. A group on Facebook called Worrying Signs has collated hundreds of similar examples. These aren’t, as some apologists for the Brexit aftermath will argue, just everyday examples of hate crimes that have been blown out of proportion by those who want to remain in the EU. And you don’t need to ask around very far to hear other stories too.

I was put in touch with Umaar Kazmi, a 19 year old law student in Nottingham, by a mutual friend. “The day after the vote, I first thought I was being a bit paranoid,” he said. “But it became quite obvious, this can’t be a coincidence. Lot of people were just giving me strange looks – white people, looking at me in disgust. At the bus stop, two elderly people were talking about immigration while looking at me.” Kazmi said that he had seen the people before, and this was the first time they had this sort of reaction to him.

Later, as Kazmi was in a car with some friends, passengers in another vehicle, which was carrying a mounted England flag, “started making rude gestures to us in the car. All of us were brown people".

“We really don’t usually get that sort of thing," he said. "I’ve never felt like that in the city centre. Nottingham is a very welcoming city, you don’t see that out in the open.”

Kazmi added that, despite all of this, “bigots and racists are a loud minority, that’s all they are”. He spoke at a rally in Nottingham city centre on the Monday after the vote. “It was properly raining and 700 people were there,” he said.

Chaz Singh, 29, works in sales in London. He is an old friend of mine, and I noticed him write a message on Facebook about his experiences. He said that on the day of the vote he received verbal abuse on four separate occasions, shouted from four separate vehicles, as he went between the bus stop, the shop and his house. The first few shouts were inaudible, he said, “then, going back from the shop to my home, someone shouts ‘paki’ at me”.

“My whole family lives here, it’s a bit mind-blowing really,” he said. "I know the area very well and I’ve never heard this kind of thing. I’m not a small guy, I don’t look vulnerable. What happens to kids? Or old people?”

Another person to face abuse on the day of the vote was Rishi Madlani, 34, a Labour councillor for the Bloomsbury ward in Camden, London. I knew Madlani from student politics, more than a decade ago. He was working as a teller at his local polling station on the day.

“I still can’t quite believe it happened,” he said. “A gentleman went to vote, and declined to give me his voter number, which is fine. He then came back and challenged me, ‘What right do you have to have a say? You’re not English.’

“In Bloomsbury, Camden, a multicultural society, you had this,” he continued. “This was the tip of the iceberg of what was to come. We have to call out this behaviour. I’ve been reading on Facebook about people being spat at.” Madlani added that, despite all of this, he believes that the people carrying out such abuse are a small, but vocal, minority.

I just want to reiterate that the people quoted above I either know personally, or by one degree of separation. I didn’t need to look very far. How many hidden stories of such behaviour are there? What about people who are fearful of going public?

If this seems like Britain has descended into a racist nightmare, you could be forgiven. But it would be needlessly pessimistic to write off the range of positive reactions many people have had to this increase in hatred. Some people are giving their neighbours cards saying “You are loved”; many have started to wear a safety pin, a new symbol of solidarity with migrants and ethnic minorities; in many workplaces, people are posting group photos of workmates holding signs stating their country of origin, to illustrate just how diverse they all are; at a Northampton school, parents gave out flowers to other minority ethnic parents.

There have also been dozens of demonstrations and protests, such as the rally in Nottingham mentioned above, around the country in solidarity with migrants, refugees, ethnic minorities and other Europeans. One of the first was on the night after the vote, with several thousand marching from Whitechapel in east London to the headquarters of Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, which publishes the anti-immigrant, Brexit-supporting Sun newspaper. Another, rather spectacular, example in London was of thousands of people marching against Brexit and in solidarity with those suffering its consequences. It had meant to assemble at Trafalgar Square, but police said it could not be safely held there. Thousands then poured down Whitehall towards parliament. The scenes were captured live, unexpectedly, by Channel 4 News.

It is these shards of light that are providing the warmth of hope against the cold reality of a newly encouraged far-right and newly emboldened racists. We are now at a junction where the Brexit vote has happened, and it will probably be enacted. The question now is whether the politicians who decide what our future is as a country will pander to the racists or not. We can’t trust them to make the right decision on their own.

Patrick Ward is a journalist and writer in London. He likes historical non-fiction and sci-fi, which gives him the opportunity to read about what went wrong in the past and how it might be better ... Show More