With The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) indicating a 57% rise in reports of hate crimes in recent days, “racially motivated” graffiti daubed on the doors of a Polish cultural centre in London and people sharing their experiences of racist and xenophobic abuse online, there doesn't seem much to be cheerful about.
However, there’s an uplifting note to be found as the Polish Social & Cultural Association has been inundated with support since Sunday (26 June), posting pictures to social media of flowers and cards left at the centre and receiving messages of solidarity online. Local schools also rallied round the Hammersmith organisation, which promotes Poland's arts and culture.
On Twitter, Nadia Khomami, a reporter for The Guardian, posted an example of one of the letters (see below) addressed to “Polish friends”, which expresses sorrow for the attack and describes the centre as “one of west London's most important cultural landmarks”, adding: “Not only are you very welcome, but we are proud to have you in our community.”
Concerns have been growing that anti-immigration rhetoric surrounding the Brexit debate and Friday’s win for the Leave campaign may have emboldened those with racist and xenophobic views. The NPCC confirmed that initial figures show an increase in reports of hate crime between Thursday and Sunday compared with those days last month. 85 reports were made online via website True Vision (report-it.org.uk) compared with 54.
As well as the graffiti on the cultural centre, reports of laminated cards reading “Leave the EU/No more Polish vermin” allegedly left outside schools and posted through letterboxes in Huntingdon are being investigated by police.
Assistant chief constable Mark Hamilton of the NPCC said of the figures: “At the national level, the vast majority of people are continuing to go about their lives in safety and security and there have been no major spikes in tensions reported.
“However, we are seeing an increase in reports of hate crime incidents to True Vision, the police online hate-crime reporting site. This is similar to the trends following other major national or international events. In previous instances, crime levels returned to normal relatively quickly but we are monitoring the situation closely.”
Prime Minister David Cameron has condemned the incidents, telling MPs: “In the past few days we have seen despicable graffiti daubed on a Polish community centre, we’ve seen verbal abuse hurled against individuals because they are members of ethnic minorities […]
“Let’s remember these people have come here and made a wonderful contribution to our country.”
While some are using the hashtag #PostRefRacism to document their experiences, others are determined to combat any ill feeling by posting general messages of support and by visiting Polish people in their area with cards and gifts.
Off shopping. Only a small Cornish town but we do have a Polish shop I've never been in. Taking them a friendship card a smile and flowers.— Vanessa Smith (@vancopd) June 27, 2016
Meanwhile, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said while it was important to realise some might use the referendum result to “divide”, Remain voters should not “demonise” Leave voters: “As Mayor, I take seriously my responsibility to defend London's fantastic mix of diversity and tolerance.
“So it's really important we stand guard against any rise in hate crimes or abuse by those who might use last week's referendum as cover to seek to divide us.
“I've asked our police to be extra vigilant for any rise in cases of hate crime and I'm calling on all Londoners to pull together and rally behind this great city […]
“While I and millions of others disagreed with [Leaver voters’] decision, they took it for a variety of reasons and this shouldn't be used to accuse them of being xenophobic or racist. We must respect their decision and work together now to get the best deal for London.”
In a statement, although “shocked and deeply concerned”, the Polish Embassy said, “At the same time we would like to thank for all the messages of support and solidarity with the Polish community expressed by the British public.”