by Rebecca Hilsenrath
Published: 29 Jun 2016
“Leave the EU – no more Polish vermin”
“Rapefugees not welcome”
“Mum got called 'Paki' for the first time in 40 years”
I don’t know about you, but none of this sounds like my country.
I work in London, which has the most fantastically rich and diverse mix of people – we need it to stay that way and not descend into the maelstrom of hatred and division. We are looking at the moment into a national vacuum – political, economic and constitutional. There is a danger that those who push hate and division will try to fill that gap.
I have been appalled to hear about the spike in incidents of hate crime and racist abuse in recent days. This includes a butcher’s shop owned by Muslims being burnt to the ground, violence and racist graffiti targeting the Polish community, and an increase in online hate.
I know that there are staff at the Commission who have also experienced racism over the last few days. A disagreement over a supermarket car-parking space resulted in one Commission employee being told that she should ‘go back to her own country.’ She has lived and worked in Britain her whole life and this was the first racist comment she had experienced since the ‘70s.
It is clear that unprincipled individuals are using last week’s referendum result to try to legitimise inexcusable and despicable racism and prejudice. I know that voters from both sides of the debate are revolted by these acts. I know that this is a perversion of views legitimately expressed through the democratic process. We cannot allow that process to be subverted to support and incite violence and hate.
It is more important than ever that we stand together against any kind of prejudice.
We must and will debate and fully understand the implications of last week’s vote, including questions around immigration. However, we must not forget our proud tradition of tolerance and respect for difference, and we must not allow this tradition to be threatened.
The Commission has an important role in meeting this challenge.
I will be writing regularly in the coming weeks to inform you about our efforts. As the national expert body, we will be watching events unfold and keeping you up to date.
The Commission has launched a public information campaign, which will provide important advice on how people can report hate speech and crime, as well as an overview of the law and how people can exercise their rights. To make sure we reach as many people as possible, we are making contact with relevant international embassies and consulates to discuss how we best share this information and reach those who may be at risk. We must take a zero tolerance approach to hate crime.
In the coming months we will also publish a new review into hate crime, as well as a wider report with recommendations about how race policy in the UK must be strengthened. This will examine the trends, causes and the public policy interventions that can be most successful in tackling the rise in hate across the UK.
We are determined to do all we can in helping heal the divisions in the country after last week’s events and in stamping out the rise in disharmony and hate. This must to be a collective national effort and we will be working closely with the government and other partners in the days ahead.