An increase in hate crimes reported to the police in Lewisham has led one Labour councillor to speculate that Brexit might be to blame.
In December 2015, a total 422 cases of hate crimes were reported in the borough. The number surged to 512 by the end of December 2016. David Michael, Chair of the Safer Stronger Communities Select Committee believes that Brexit has been seen by some as “a licence to violence.”
He said: “After the referendum we have seen a spike in racial hate crimes. In our borough we had attacks on Spanish, Turkish, Jewish and people of other ethnicity.”
“People of racist tendencies have taken Brexit as a licence to mount physical, verbal and online attacks against people of other communities.”
He added: “It’s very disturbing that people are singled out and crimes are committed against them simply because they are different.”
In July 2016 the council had organised an event and appealed people to take a pledge to fight racism, bigotry and xenophobia.
Joanna Hart, Hate crime project lead of a charity called Lewisham Speaking Up, adds a different angle to the story. She calls for more efforts to educate young people..
She said: “Research we’ve seen seems to show that people’s attitudes develop at quite a young age. People start to believe they are better than someone else because they are different to them.”
While the figures of Lewisham suggest a 15% spike in hate crimes, the national statistics too are no different. Recent figures by the Metropolitan Police show that last year there was a surge in the hate crime incidents post referendum when compared to the data of previous year for the same period. A further spike is predicted when Article 50 gets triggered next month.
So the question is how big is the challenge and is the police ready to tackle the problem?
Speaking to East London Lines, a spokesperson at the Metropolitan Police said: “Over the last two years, the MPS has increased specialist investigators, we have reviewed our approach to hate crime, placing extra focus upon evidence- gathering and technology to help identify suspects to bring them to justice.”
David Michael, who has served 30 years as a police officer, also blames politics for worsening the situation.
“We should acknowledge that the rhetoric of some of the senior politicians and the lowest common denominator that they put to people fuels the fire,” he said.
Ukip leader Paul Nuttall has however called the statistics “over-fabricated and overblown”.
So what could be the solution?
Joanna Hart said: “Education and mixing with people from an early age. Communication and Restorative justice’. Michael backs a community approach. He said: “ The police, public and different organisations need to develop a partnership to stand up and fight against it.”