Anti-racism protests following the US police killing of George Floyd have spread to Europe with protesters emphasising that racial profiling is not just an American phenomenon.
“What’s happening in the US has shone a light on what’s happening in France,” Assa Traoré, whose brother, Adama, died of asphyxiation while in police custody in 2016, told protesters in Paris on Tuesday evening.
Between 20,000 and 40,000 people answered her call to protest the death of George Floyd and to denounce alleged racial profiling by law enforcement forces in France. That despite stringent social distancing rules imposed in the country to curb the spread of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
“We must draw the curtain on the racism that is happening here in France on racialised people,” she said, adding that French police acts like “a mafia” and “does what it wants, with no impunity”.
Similar protests have also been held in the Netherlands, Germany and the UK.
Discrimination is ‘commonplace’
The issue of racism in policing in Europe “is often denied”, Rachel Neild, from the Open Society Justice Initiative, told Euronews.
“It is impossible to say how many people the police stop and check, or even experience police brutality because there is no official race data or tracking of disproportionate police stops by race. Only the UK collects this data systematically and it shows persistent, systemic bias against people of colour,” she added.
The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) concurred, telling Euronews that “there is a tendency indeed to focus on the situation in the US and many in Europe acknowledge the problem in the US without recognising it is an issue in Europe as well, despite evidence that racial profiling by police forces is a reality” across the continent too.
According to the “Being Black in the EU” report, nearly a third of Black Europeans had experienced racist harassment in the five years preceding its 2018 release.
Michael O’Flaherty, director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (EUAFA), which compiled the report, said then that “racial discrimination and harassment are commonplace” in the EU.
He added that “discriminatory profiling by police, too, is a common reality”.
One-quarter of the more than 5,800 people surveyed in 12 EU member states said they were stopped by police in the last four years. Among these, four in 10 characterised the most recent stop as racial profiling.
Sixty-four per cent of victims of racist violence and 63% of victims of racist physical attacks by police officers, did not report the most recent incident “either because they felt reporting it would not change anything (34%) or because victims do not trust or are afraid of the police”, the report stated.
‘Lethal violence is a common issue in Europe’
Racial profiling — the use by police, with no objective and reasonable justification, of grounds such as race, colour, language, religion, nationality, in control, surveillance or investigative activities — is most often “driven by unspoken biases,” Dunja Mijatovic, Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, wrote last year.
She flagged then that an EU-wide survey of 25,000 people with different ethnic minority and immigrant backgrounds carried out in 2015-2016 found that 14% of them had been stopped by police in the previous 12 months.
“In France, according to the results of a national survey of more than 5,000 respondents, young men of Arab and African descent are twenty times more likely to be stopped and searched than any other male group,” she said.
“As for the UK — where police are required by law to collect and publish disaggregated data on police stop-and-search practices — Home Office statistics for 2017-2018 show that, in England and Wales, black people were nine and half times more likely to be stopped as white people,” she added.
For Neild, just like in the US, “lethal violence is a common issue in Europe, it is undeniably present”.
According to “La Police Assassine” NGO (“Police kills”), nearly 100 people were killed by French police between 2005 and 2015. In Portugal, Plataforma Gueto, a Social Black Movement, said that eight Black people aged between 14 and 30 were killed by law enforcement officers between 2002 and 2013.
“But the damage perpetrated by profiling is far deeper and more pernicious than physical violence alone. It is humiliating and frightening for the people who are targeted, it sends a constant message that “you do not belong”, it leads some people to change their patterns of behaviour to avoid police contact, sometimes limiting their movement and other rights, it erodes trust and legitimacy of the police and the state more widely,” she went on.
France, Portugal, Belgium
Lack of data makes it difficult to know what country may be worse than others in Europe, although Neild flagged that “community-police relations appear particularly acute in France, where we are seeing patterns of using fines systematically in low income (minority) neighbourhoods”.
Georgina Siklossy, spokesperson for ENAR told Euronews that while racial profiling is an issue in every European country, “the people targeted may differ according to the national context and history.”
“For instance, in eastern European countries, it is mainly Roma people who experience racial profiling and police brutality,” Siklossy said.
She added that some hotspots have emerged in recent years, with ENAR members and activists reporting worrying trends of police violence.
“Many cases we know of are in France but there are cases in Portugal and recently in Belgium that we would like to shine a light on for the authorities to respond,” she went on.
ENAR also flagged that the “justice gap” extends to how hate crimes are reported and prosecuted.
In a report released in September last year, it warned that although hate crimes are on the rise, “evidence suggests that the police do not take these reports of hate crime seriously or they do not believe victims of racially motivated crimes”.
The organisation said that hate crime laws in European countries tend to not be “enforced because of a context of deeply rooted institutional racism”.
This then goes on to hinder the successful prosecution and sentencing of a hate crime, ENAR said.
More severe sanctions
To combat the problem, the Open Society Justice Initiative is calling for extensive data collection on policing in Europe and for the “explicit application of EU non-discrimination standards to policing”.
“This has to include reversal fo burden of proof so the state is obliged to take up the positive duty of ensuring that its actions are not discriminatory,” Neild explained.
ENAR also wants European governments to adopt more severe sanctions in cases of police violence and abuse, and increase racial diversity and training within the police.
“A first step would be to order an independent public review of law enforcement to identify policies and practices that lead to institutional racism within the police, as was done for instance in the United Kingdom with the Stephen Lawrence inquiry,” Siklossy said.__EuroNews