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After Brexit Vote, U.K. Sees A Wave Of Hate Crimes And Racist Abuse

The United Kingdom Independence Party's "Breaking Point" EU referendum campaign poster was deemed so offensive and reminiscent of Nazi propaganda that even the official Leave campaign condemned it.
Jack Taylor
Getty Images
The United Kingdom Independence Party's "Breaking Point" EU referendum campaign poster was deemed so offensive and reminiscent of Nazi propaganda that even the official Leave campaign condemned it.

Dog excrement thrown at a German woman's door. "Go back to Africa" screamed at a military veteran. A Polish cultural center vandalized. Born-and-bred Britons told to "go home." Why? Because "we voted you out."

Police in the U.K. have registered a noticeable rise in hate speech and complaints of racial abuse since last week's historic vote to pull Britain out of the European Union. The National Police Chiefs Council reported Monday that there had been a 57 percent jump in hate crime reports to its online reporting site since Friday, compared with the same time frame a month ago.

The country's successful "Leave" campaigners are quick to point out that the abusive incidents do not represent the majority of pro-Brexit voters. Rather, they say, a small minority with extreme views has been emboldened and seems to take the referendum victory as a sign that much of the country agrees with them.

'I'm So, So Scared'

Amateur video taken Tuesday on a Manchester tram shows white youths verbally assaulting and threatening another passenger who had asked them to quit using foul language. (Warning: The video contains profanity.) One of the teenagers yells, "Get back to Africa!" while another sprays beer in the man's direction. Manchester police have made three arrests.

In Cambridgeshire, cards reading "Leave the EU/No more Polish vermin" appeared outside some homes and schools after the vote. Poles make up the largest number of EU citizens living in Britain.

And an audibly distressed German woman called LBC, a U.K. talk radio outlet, on Tuesday to say she was too scared to leave her house in London, which she said was in a quiet, middle class neighborhood. Dog excrement was thrown at her door, and she was told to "go back home."

Describing herself as a widow who'd been married to a British doctor, she gave her first name as Karen and said she'd lived in London for 43 years and never experienced anything like this.

"I'm so, so scared," she said, crying. "I haven't been out of the house for three days, because I don't know what to do."

Calls To Fight Back

Amnesty U.K. has launched a new campaign to combat racism and xenophobia, and political leaders are speaking out as well. London's new mayor, Sadiq Khan, who is Muslim, says he's told the metropolitan police that the city must have "zero tolerance" for xenophobic attacks.

In Parliament on Wednesday, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn referred to "vile, racist attacks" being reported "from Stoke to Stockton, from Dorset to the Clyde," and asked Prime Minister David Cameron what the government is doing about it.

"I want the message to go out of communities coming together, but I also want the message to go out that it is illegal, it is a criminal offense," said Corbyn. "We as a society will prosecute those people who commit those hate crimes."

Cameron responded by saying such attacks are "not what we do in Britain," adding, "Whatever we can do, we will do to drive these appalling hate crimes out of our country."

Cameron also announced a series of new measures aimed at increasing reporting of hate crimes, boosting funding for police to improve enforcement and resources for groups dedicated to preventing hate crimes.

Ex-Labour Party leader Ed Miliband called on U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage and the official Leave campaign leaders to condemn the racist attacks.

Late in the EU referendum campaign, Farage unveiled a giant poster widely criticized as xenophobic. It featured a stream of refugees crossing a land border in the Balkans, with the headline "Breaking Point." Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer and Remain campaigner George Osborne compared the poster to "Nazi propaganda." And even the official Leave campaign — which Farage was not associated with — condemned it.

Farage denies the poster is racist, and says fear of immigration was and continues to be a legitimate and powerful concern of people in the U.K.

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Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.