Attack on asylum seeker prompts hate crime row
A sickening attack in south London has almost cost a 17-year-old boy his life. Police are calling it a racially motivated hate crime. Is a wider atmosphere of intolerance to blame?
On Friday night Reker Ahmed, a 17-year-old Kurdish-Iranian boy, was waiting for a bus in the south London borough of Croydon.
A group approached him and his two friends. They asked him where he was from. When they realised he was an asylum seeker, they chased him down the street as he cried for help.
What happened next, according to the police, was “horrendous”, “frenzied” and “brutal”. When the gang caught up with Ahmed they forced him to the ground and repeatedly punched and kicked him in the face and head.
“I saw a group of 30 people running towards the teenager,” said one eyewitness. “A group surrounded him watching. About four or five were punching and smacking him everywhere. I saw him on the floor after. He wasn’t moving.”
The attack left Ahmed with a fractured skull and a blood clot on his brain. Police said he had suffered a “racially motivated hate crime” and was lucky to be alive. Some drew comparisons with the 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence, a black 18-year-old killed in a racially-motivated attack.
Politicians from across the spectrum condemned the assault. Theresa May said it was “absolutely despicable”. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said: “Hate crime has no place in London.” The local MP called the attackers “cowardly and despicable scum”.
But some saw the unity as a facade. Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, said the incident was “not isolated”. She linked it to anti-migrant rhetoric in politics and the media — particularly in light of the Brexit referendum, when calls for tighter immigration restrictions played a significant part.
“With right-wing politicians across the world scapegoating migrants, refugees and others, we are seeing a deeply worrying rise in the politics of hate,” she said. Official statistics have shown a rise in reported hate crimes in Britain since June’s vote.
But Abbott’s words inspired a swift backlash. Chris Philp, the Conservative MP for Croydon South, called it “a sickening attempt to politicise an awful crime”.
Sign of the times?
Abbott has a point, say some. The number of attackers and bystanders, and the viciousness of the attack, show how deep-rooted this problem is. Irresponsible rhetoric on immigration encourages people to make sweeping generalisations about the “other”. In an area of high inequality like Croydon, their resentment will inevitably boil over.
That is over-interpreting it, others respond. This attack has gained a high profile and been roundly condemned, showing how isolated such incidents are in Britain. It is too easy to say the country is highly intolerant or assign blame. We do not know what drove this reprehensible behaviour, and should not draw too many conclusions from it.
- Do hate crimes like this worry you?
- Is it right to link the Croydon attack to political rhetoric?
- Work in pairs. You are police officers charged with finding out what happened in Croydon. Write down five questions you would seek to answer, and how you would find out the answers to them.
- Research and write a 500-word newspaper report about this incident, or a similar one in your local area, in the style of your local newspaper.
Some People Say...
“Politicians should just say what they think — they are not responsible for anyone else’s actions.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- A very large gang was involved. Many people watched, although some tried to help the victim. Immigration has been an increasingly significant political issue in Britain recently; 33% of those who voted to leave the EU said their main reason was to gain control of the UK’s borders and reduce immigration. Several police forces have reported rises in hate crimes since the EU referendum.
- What do we not know?
- What links exist between anti-migration rhetoric and hate crimes — and in particular, Brexit and this crime.
- What do people believe?
- Some anecdotal evidence suggests incidents that have been explicitly linked to the Brexit vote. But racist rhetoric and incidents in the UK have fallen significantly over the long-term, and remain much lower now than in the late 20th century.
- Asylum seeker
- Someone who leaves their country and seeks asylum — the protection granted to refugees fleeing persecution and war — in another.
- The police said 20–30 people were involved in the attack. Some witnesses said dozens of bystanders also saw it.
- Stephen Lawrence
- Lawrence was stabbed to death at a bus stop in south London by a gang of racist youths in a notorious attack.
- Hate crimes
- Data from 31 police forces showed a 45% increase in racially or religiously aggravated offences after June’s referendum. Some forces have also reported a higher level of hate crimes since — though some commentators say changes in reporting mechanisms and definitions have driven the numbers up.
- Draw political meaning from the incident. Abbott, of Labour, attacked the Conservative government’s response to hate crime.
- Stefano Hatfield, a columnist for iNews, said growing “disparity between haves and have-nots” had bred discord and nihilism in Croydon. In this environment, he argued, anti-migrant rhetoric had allowed thugs to “feel some justification” for their actions.