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New Data Reveal Increase In Hate Crimes After U.K. Brexit Vote


According to British police, reports of hate crimes in the United Kingdom rose in the months after the Brexit vote in June to leave the European Union. The most alarming case happened at the end of August - the beating death of a Polish man in Harlow, a town north of London. The Polish community there is still rattled. NPR's Frank Langfitt sent this report.

BOGDAN KOT: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name...

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Father Bogdan Kot presided over the funeral last month of Arek Jozwik, a 40-year-old factory worker. Surrounded by scores of Polish mourners, Father Kot asked the question on many people's minds.

KOT: Why God allowed for this to happen? Why this good man, hard-working man, gentle man had to die?

LANGFITT: After the ceremony, Eric Hind, a Pole who works here in IT, had an answer.

ERIC HIND: We believe it's a hate crime. I believe the police will confirm that very shortly.

LANGFITT: Jozwik and a friend were drinking late one night at a pizza parlor when a group of teenagers began harassing them. Hind says the man who survived the attack told him what happened.

HIND: They started to shout some swear words, you know, bloody scum.

LANGFITT: Police said one of the teenagers knocked Jozwik to the ground with a single punch. On Friday, authorities interviewed one of the youths, a 15-year-old they'd arrested on suspicion of murder. Police plan to call him back for more questions at the end of the month. Hind has lived in the U.K. for 13 years and spoke for many mourners.

HIND: I mean, now I feel scared, obviously. My wife feels scared. We want to know what's going to happen next. After I've been here so long and, you know, contributing to the country, we don't feel welcome anymore.

LANGFITT: Police say reports of hate crimes in most of the U.K. have been up nearly one-third since the week before the Brexit vote. Some EU embassies told The Guardian newspaper they'd also seen an increase in abuse of their citizens. Most of the targets were Poles or people mistaken for Poles. And that's not news to Magda Grzymkowska.

MAGDA GRZYMKOWSKA: Every week, it's happening something like this. And every week, we have article in our newspaper.

LANGFITT: Grzymkowska edits Tydzien Polski. It's a Polish weekly based in London. She cited a case last month in the English midlands where a man ordered a student of Polish descent to speak English.

GRZYMKOWSKA: He told this Polish guy that he doesn't want her daughter to hear Polish language because she lives in England. And one of the men broke a glass bottle and stabbed the Polish guy in the neck.

LANGFITT: The victim needed 13 stitches but survived. Poland joined the European Union in 2004, sparking hundreds of thousands of Poles to come here looking for a better life. They took jobs as plumbers, electricians and construction workers and became the largest European minority in the U.K.

Grzymkowska says when she first came here, people associated Poles with positive things like female beauty, sausages and pierogi. Now she says it's different.

GRZYMKOWSKA: When I introduce myself that I'm from Poland, I've heard, oh, you're from Poland? So you are one of the guys who came here to steal our jobs.

LANGFITT: As in the U.S., white identity and immigration are big political issues here and were driving forces in the Brexit vote. Grzymkowska says the results embolden some Brexit supporters to speak their minds.

GRZYMKOWSKA: They think they have the right to act like this now. They feel they are stronger because they are in majority. So they have the right to tell all these things to immigrants - Poles go home.

LANGFITT: Because they won?

GRZYMKOWSKA: Yes, because they won.

LANGFITT: Back in Harlow, police are still trying to determine if Arek Jozwik’s death was driven by hate. Some residents are skeptical.

SID ROBINSON: No way, no way. I personally don't believe that.

LANGFITT: Sid Robinson is a retired factory employee. Robinson, who's black, says teens who hang out along the shopping street where Jozwik was killed are bored and frustrated, looking for an excuse to beat anyone, regardless of their ethnic background.

ROBINSON: If I want to go out for a night out, I go to London. I wouldn't walk around in Harlow - and the reason why, I'm scared of the youngsters.

LANGFITT: Robinson thinks the factors that drove the attack were more economic and political. Like many communities that backed Brexit, Harlow suffered government spending cuts in recent years, cuts that left teens with fewer things to do and some in Harlow feeling resentful and left behind. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.