Police have urged Eastern European residents in Armley to put their trust in the police and report any hate crime they may face.
The appeal came at a public meeting to bring different cultures in Armley together following the recent attack on a Polish man.
The council, police and local community group All Together Armley hosted the meeting aimed at residents from central and eastern European communities to listen to their concerns and provide reassurance following the incident on Friday, September 9.
A total of seven youths have been arrested in connection with the incident, which police are treating as being racially aggravated.
Last night’s meeting saw more than 40 people from a variety of backgrounds pack into Armley Library.
A ‘Welcome to Armley’ booklet detailing local services was handed out to all attendees, alongside a piece of paper which people were encouraged to write questions or comments to police in any language.
Superintendent Lisa Atkinson told the meeting that there had been a small surge in the number of race hate reports following the media coverage surrounding Brexit, but that levels had now returned to normal. She said:
“There were a lot of media reports around hate crimes at the time and as a result we started to receive increased reports from the public.”
Supt Atkinson urged people from all backgrounds to report problems to the police, suggesting that hate crime may be under-reported in the area.
“We’re here to help build up trust and confidence. We need your full support if we’re to tackle any problems. We will support and help any victim that comes forward,.”
Police said that reports would be treated confidentially with someone in plain clothes visiting victims in their homes or at a convenient place like Armley Library.
For the most part, the Eastern European community were quiet through the hour-long meeting.
But one man did say he felt it was a ‘waste of time’ calling police when he had reported a crime to them.
He said he had not understand how to report problems and felt ‘let down by the system’. Police agreed to speak to the man after the meeting to get more details.
One elderly English man gave details of how he’d been the victim of what he said was hate crime in Armley. He said:
“I’ve been sworn at and almost run over on Town Street. It works both ways.”
Armley Cllr Alison Lowe (Lab) apologised to attendees for last month’s incident involving the gang. She said:
“I am really sorry about what happened and about what is happening.
“I’m delighted the All Together Armley group has organised this event because that is what we want to be – ‘all together Armley’. We are a welcoming and inclusive community.
“Please come and see us if you need any help or support. Your ward councillors are here to help.”
It was also raised by one local resident that some people feared that they may be asked to leave the country as a result of the Brexit vote.
Cllr Lowe said she would ask Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake to write to the Government to ask them to end any uncertainty and distress by clarifying their position.
There was also talk of videos being produced by the council in different languages, offering an introduction to local services and information for people new to the area.
Frightened to attend
The Dispatch spoke to a Polish family after the meeting. The father, who asked not to be named, said he welcomed the idea of the meeting but felt that some people were too frightened to attend. He added:
“I know people who have these [race hate] problems but dare not report it in case it makes things worse. They do not wish to be seen near the police. I don’t know whether this meeting changes that, we’ll see.”
The meeting comes a week after Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves suggested tensions over immigration could “explode” into riots, describing the constituency as a “tinder box”.
“We have got to get this right because there are bubbling tensions in this country that I just think could explode.
“You had those riots in 2011… If riots started again in Leeds and bits of my constituency – it’s like a tinderbox.”
A report in the Guardian said West Leeds residents were aware of tensions over immigration but sceptical about claims that area could ‘explode’.
The comments sparked lively debates on Facebook, with many disagreeing.
One commenter said:
“This evening whilst walking to the shop I have witnessed: children playing chess on the pavement, a group of youths banging on the windows and climbing on a car then hugging the occupants and helping the disabled passenger into a wheelchair (I’m guessing they knew them), a drunk man who needed a wee thanking shop staff for getting something from the back for him (whilst hopping from foot to foot) and then wishing everyone in the shop goodnight, a child on a bike, on the pavement stopping so I could pass and a lowered car with loud exhaust letting me cross the road. Tinderbox my arse!”