By Cllr Tim Pollard, Leader of Croydon's Conservative Councillors:
Amid the sadness, the reaction – "Oh, it’s Croydon – what do you expect?" – has come from across the country to Friday’s abhorrent attack on a young Kurdish refugee. Croydon’s local MP, Gavin Barwell called the attackers "cowardly and despicable scum" – he’s spot on.
As someone who has made Croydon my home for the last thirty years and been part of its political leadership for the last fourteen, I am as shocked as anyone that this could take place in the town that I love.
People’s perception of Croydon is coloured by the images of the riots in 2011 and now this senseless act of violence has given the stereotype yet more credence.
And yet Croydon generally does not have a community relations problem.
As one of the most diverse boroughs in London, Croydon has a strong sense of community and pulls together fantastically well in the face of adversity as was seen last November in the aftermath of the tram tragedy. Many of our primary schools proudly educate native speakers of dozens of languages, often as many as forty. In the EU referendum Croydon voted remain by some margin: it simply isn’t a place where inter-community tensions typically run high.
And yet this appalling attack took place on our streets, with perhaps the most shocking thing about it being the number of bystanders who seem to have watched the assault without intervening. The attackers seem themselves to have come from a range of backgrounds, so the lazy stereotypes of inter-ethnic violence do not seem to apply here.
It is too early to speculate about what motivated the attackers. That’s a job for the police and the courts. For many years Croydon has been in the forefront of the resettlement of asylum seekers due to its status as the only place where in-country asylum could be claimed. As a result, we have typically had as many young asylum seekers in our care as local children.
Recent moves towards spreading the load across London and the rest of the country have gone a long way to reducing pressures in the system and yet there will still be some who will attempt to use this horrific incident as a symptom of a wider malaise, either here in Croydon or more widely.
This is patent rubbish. One swallow does not make a summer, and our phenomenal town is not defined by incidents like this one, no matter how awful it may have been. Croydon will not allow hateful rhetoric and knee-jerk populism to divide our communities. Supporting asylum seekers is something we have a proud history of doing, and yet the Home Office unit remains invisible to most residents and has little or no impact on their daily lives.
I’ve spoken to many local people over the last few days, some worried, some confused, but all of them are struggling to make sense of this attack. It flies in the face of so much that lies at the core of what it is to be a Croydonian. We are a tolerant people and the diverse communities in the town treat each other with pride and respect. I hope and believe this will turn out to be an isolated act of drink-fuelled madness perpetrated by a few individuals rather than a sign of a wider issue in the town.
To those reading this from Croydon I want to say this: there is no room for complacency. We must all redouble our efforts to both bring communities together and create a sense that this town is big enough for all of us.
As I write there is no further news of the victim’s condition, I know I speak for everyone in Croydon by wishing him a full and speedy recovery. These thugs are not welcome in our town, they are not part of our community, and we will not stand idly by while they sully our home.
This article was originally posted on the Daily Telegraph online on Monday 3rd April 2017.