Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old black man who was stabbed in 1993 in an unprovoked attack by a gang of white youths
When he replied that he was an asylum-seeker, police and news reports said, they chased him through the streets and finally caught him, throwing him to the ground and repeatedly punching and kicking him in the head, even as he screamed for help.
At the sound of police sirens, the attackers fled, leaving the teenager unconscious, with a fractured skull and a blood clot in his brain. As many as 20 people may have participated in the Friday night attack, which the police are treating as a suspected hate crime.
On Monday, the frenzied assault on the 17-year-old, described by police as “brutal,” was reverberating across Britain amid growing concerns that the country’s decision to leave the European Union, or “Brexit,” had spawned an anti-immigrant backlash.
For some, the attack in the South London area of Croydon recalled another racially charged attack at a bus stop in the capital: the murder of Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old black man who was stabbed in 1993 in an unprovoked attack by a gang of white youths.
Scotland Yard said on Monday that 10 people had been arrested after the beating of the Kurdish-Iranian teenager, with five people, ages 20 to 24, charged in the attack. Four of them were charged with violent disorder, and the fifth with violent disorder and causing racially aggravated grievous bodily harm. The police said that the victim, who has not been identified publicly and who news reports said had arrived in Britain only a few months ago, was in serious but stable condition in the hospital.
The investigating police officer, Detective Sgt. Kris Blamires, said the teenager had sustained “serious head and facial injuries as a result of this attack, which included repeated blows to the head by a large group of attackers.” He said that “a number of people came to the aid of the victim as he lay unconscious and injured following the assault.”
While the investigation is continuing, politicians across the political spectrum condemned the assault, which some critics attributed, fairly or not, to a toxic political environment and a rise in nationalist sentiment that was being directed at immigrants.
Gavin Barwell, a minister for housing in the Conservative government and a member of Parliament for Croydon, described the attackers on Twitter as “scum.”
“I think most people in Croydon will be as appalled as I am that what appears to have happened is a young man who came to this country seeking sanctuary has apparently been targeted because of his ethnic background,” he said to the BBC. “It’s an appalling crime, and I hope the people responsible are caught quickly and receive the full force of British justice.”
Diane Abbott, who speaks on home affairs for the opposition Labour Party, said in a statement that the attack was part of a “sustained increase in hate crimes.” She said the government was not doing enough to stop such crimes.
“With right-wing politicians across the world scapegoating migrants, refugees and others for their economic problems, we are seeing a deeply worrying rise in the politics of hate,” the statement from Abbott said. “We must make clear that there is no place for anti-foreigner myths, racism and hate in our society.”
During the referendum on whether to leave the European Union, the campaign supporting a withdrawal was bolstered by anti-immigrant sentiment, stoked in part by the right-wing U.K. Independence Party. Concerns about immigration have also been heightened by fears of terrorism.