Members of communities from across Luton came together on Monday for a conference to discuss the rise in hate crime in the town.
The ‘Harms of Hate’ conference was held at UK Carnival Arts Centre by Luton Borough Council and attracted speakers from a host of organisations.
Nearly all cited the ‘EU Exit’ as the catalyst for a spike in hate crime in recent years.
Sgt Carl Perri of Bedfordshire Police presented statistics showing the rise since the June 2016 referendum, and criticised senior politicians for engaging in provocative language to describe minorities.
According to Sgt Perri, most hate crimes take place during everyday activities such as driving and shopping.
He said: “Why you’d feel the need to tell someone to ‘go back to their own country’ because you don’t like their driving I’ll never know.”
Akeela Ahmed, from the cross-government Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, said that 70% of Islamophobic attacks were against women – usually those wearing a hijab or niqaab – and the majority of perpetrators were white men.
She said: “Through gendered Islamophobia, women are portrayed as weak, oppressed, repressed and as helpless victims. More recently since the rise of ISIS and Daesh, they are seen as threats...
“It’s not just newspaper headlines, we also see it in the form of film and TV shows.”
Ms Ahmed described reports of women being spat on, their hijabs being pulled off in the street, and having bacon and alcohol thrown at them.
Florina Tudose of the East European Resource Centre, described similar abuse against Eastern Europeans.
Ms Tudose said many of these victims are hindered by poor availability of language services and a mistrust of police based on their experiences in their home countries.
Some criticism was made that there was no LGBT representation among the eight speakers, although a number of LGBT people were in the audience.
Reflecting on the event, Cllr Aslam Khan, said: “Hate crime can have a devastating and lasting effect on individuals. I hope that through events like this, people feel empowered to come forward and speak out.
“Fighting hate crime is something I’m passionate about, and I want to reassure residents that their concerns are not only at the top of my agenda but also the council’s.
“Luton is a strong and resilient community, and together we will do everything we can to stop hate and ensure that those who seek to undermine mutual respect and cohesion do not succeed.”
Sgt Carl Perri added: “This event was a great opportunity for local people to come together and discuss hate crime with the police, community leaders and the council.
“We really value open conversation and dialogue, and the chance to hear directly from people about their concerns and priorities. Only by working together can we bring an end to hate.”