Story highlights

UK reports of hate crimes on the rise following Brexit vote

Social campaign asks people to wear safety pins as sign of solidarity

London CNN  — 

A social media campaign calling for Britons to wear safety pins as a sign of solidarity with the country’s immigrant population has taken off following its decision to leave the EU last week.

A string of racially motivated crimes have been reported in post-Brexit Britain. And as police begin investigations into allegations of hate crimes against the foreign-born population around the UK, Twitter user Allison (who goes by the handle @cheeahs) suggested the simple sign of solidarity.

Related: Police arrest 3 following racist outburst on tram

On the face of it, you might think – well what can that do?

Explaining the symbolism behind her idea, 30-year-old Allison tells CNN: “There’s a woman in a hijab, she gets on the bus and there’s an empty seat. She sees that there is a person wearing a safety pin sitting next to it (and) she just knows that she can sit there and they will not hassle her.

“By all means write letters, go on marches, do everything you can. But this is just a quiet way to show, ‘Hey it’s fine, I’m with you.’”

‘You have a duty to intervene’

Additionally, Allison – originally from the U.S. but a resident in the UK for the last six years – is keen to point out wearing a safety pin should not be passive act, it’s a pledge.

“From the beginning, I’ve always said if you’re going to wear the safety pin, you’ve got to back it up. So if you put it on, you are pledging to support people and to intervene and report if you see incidences of racial or xenophobic abuse.”

She adds: “It’s far more than a pat on the back, ‘oh we’re all in our non-racist club, aren’t we wonderful?’ You have a duty to intervene for your fellow residents.”

The social movement is not dissimilar to #Illridewithyou, a hashtag campaign that emerged out of Sydney in 2014 following a flare up of anti-Muslim sentiment after a gunman took hostages in a CBD cafe.

However, critics – like former CNN host Piers Morgan – argue that the call to action does nothing to combat hate crimes, with others labeling the concept as “patronizing.”

But Allison also has a few choice words for commentators who think the campaign is pointless.

“I think those people really lack a sense of empathy for what it must be like to walk into a room or step on a train – full of strangers – and you just have to hope that none of them are going to come after you,” she says. “I completely agree. It is patronizing if you just wear the pin and think you’ve done your job.”

Despite some backlash, Allison says most of the reaction has been “overwhelmingly positive.” Three days since unwittingly launching the initiative against racism, she’s thrilled by how many are taking to social media to share their #safetypins and reassure their fellow Britons that they are welcome and supported regardless of ethnicity or background.

If you have witnessed or been victim to a hate crime, report it to local police immediately or online to True Vision, an anti-hate crime initiative. Find out more information here.