Black lives matter in Europe too

The police and civilians haven’t always had the best of relationships and have come into conflict on a yearly basis.

When the subject of police brutality is spoken about it is almost certain that the incidents discussed will link to the United States.

Especially in the most recent years as the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and many more have made it into the public sphere across the globe due to online activism on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

African-Americans make up 12.2% of the US population but they are the second most like community to be killed by the police after Native Americans.

According to The Guardian the reported tally of people killed by American police states that 1,092 people were killed by the police in 2016. The statistics show that 6.66% killed were black.

Furthermore, the killedbypolice.net database claims, more than 130 people have been killed so far in 2017.

But why are blacks targeted so much by the police?

Senior communications officer at the European Network Against Racism in Brussels, Georgina Siklossy told us: “There is a pervasive use of ethnic and religious stereotypes by law enforcement across Europe, which leads to police brutality and ethnic profiling. Heightened concerns over migration and the threat of terrorism may be fuelling discriminatory policing practices.”

Shortly after taking office, Donald Trump signed three executive orders regarding “public safety” which includes tendering officers with more authority. When running for presidency, Trump made it clear that as president, the concept of “law and order” would be back in motion.

While he may be a joke to the political world he certainly wasn’t joking about that – he seeks to “define new federal crimes, and increase penalties for existing federal crimes, in order to prevent violence” against the state and federal police.

He claims this yet he hasn’t mentioned the high killings of Native Americans, black and Hispanic/Latino communities but of course, that’s not part of Trump’s America.

He asserted that the United States faced the “threat of rising crime” and that “things will get better very soon.”

At this stage, we have a better chance of creating a brand new world from scratch than Donald Trump “making America great again”.

Black Lives Matter Protest, London [Cheyanne Ntangu]

But even though all of this is happening in the United States, it is undeniable that the suffering of black communities in Europe are hardly highlighted either.

It seems like European media publications and societies are more engrossed in the events happening in America than face the realities of racism, discrimination and hatred towards people of colour in Europe, as well as, the fragmented relationship between law enforcement and the public.

However, it is now time to change the discourse and speak about issues in Europe such as institutional racism within the police and how the law enforcement agencies have failed to protect black people from the violence of their agents who use racist stereotypes to do their job.

Siklossy told Artefact: “Most Europeans generally view anti-Black racism as an American phenomenon. Due to the influence of mass media and familiarity with historic events, such as the slave trade, the Civil Rights movement, the wider European public has come into contact and become familiarised with Afrophobia as it exists in the US.”

She adds: “There has been relatively little attention paid to the distinct issues which arise in the European context. Failure to consider this issue in the light of factors prevalent in Europe – such as the legacy of colonialism, role in transatlantic slave trade, and the diverse backgrounds of those described as ‘Black’, which means that Afrophobia, more generally, and police brutality against Black people, is not really addressed and talked about among state actors and members of the public in Europe.”

There are 12 million black people living in Europe and the population is increasing, however, the lack of visibility of these black communities and dialogue among the state and public is extremely troubling.

It illustrates the possibility of racial inequality and discrimination follows, in workplace, in society and in the justice system to increase.

Additionally, as government bodies don’t seem to care, the lack of trust between black communities and the police increases, and incidents across European countries have exposed police forces being racist when reinforcing authority, making it difficult for black communities, especially in inner city areas, to feel secure.

 

France

Most recently in France, a police officer has been accused of anally raping a young black man with a police baton during a violent arrest in a Parisian suburb.

The prosecutors claim that the law enforcement had stopped dozens of people after hearing calls of drug dealing sites in the area.

Investigators stated that the police officer who sodomized the young black man with a baton claimed that they did so “accidentally” and that the incident does not institute rape.

However, the 22-year-old youth worker who has no apparent criminal record argued otherwise.

Théo alleges that he was physically and sexually assaulted by a housing estate in Aulnay-sous-Bois; he said that he was antagonised by the officers after witnessing one of them smack a young person during an identity check.

Théo explained that the officers took him around the corner and sodomised him with a truncheon, spat on him, beat his genitals and called him names such as “bitch” and “negro”.

This brutal attack led Théo to suffer from severe anal and facial injuries, portions of which were captured on video.

President François Hollande visits Theo in hospital after incident.

President François Hollande visits Théo in hospital after incident. [Twitter/François Hollande]

The young man was immediately taken into hospital for emergency surgery. The French Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux said that each of the four officers involved has been charged with aggravated assault and one was charged with rape.

Even if the allegations of drug selling in the area were true there are ways to reinforce authority, order and discipline and this wasn’t surely one of them.

According to French press, the police stated that Théo’s pants “slipped down on their own” and his wounds were accidental. But an early investigation by France’s national police force concluded that the incident wasn’t minor and while “very serious” was “not a rape” due to the “unintentional character” of the officer’s actions.

This is a typical response when it comes to police officers taking advantage of their authority. Government bodies would rather continue to be prideful and patriotic to their beloved countries than shed the light on the wrongdoings of officers.

For them, it is better to put up a façade which has the world believing that everyone is living harmoniously in their countries, despite it evidently being far from the truth.

It is not very often that you hear of such news occurring in France beside political and terrorist propaganda. The minority French population refuse to stay silent as Théo’s story caused a huge uproar as the hashtag #justicefortheo hit the internet and protesters marched in the streets of France.

In 2015 TV5 Monde Senior Editor Slimane Zeghidour stated that racism in France is not based on skin colour, to try and establish a difference between France and the United States. He stresses that there is “very little” to “no racial prejudice” but there is a “very strong prejudice of class”.

“In France, there is no racism based on skin colour. To see evidence of this you only have to look at the streets of France where you’ll see more mixed-race couples than in New York or Rio de Janeiro,” Zeghidour said.

“To get to the heart of the problem, you can draw a parallel between the US/UK and France: in France, white French people are intensely mixing with Arabs and Blacks and interracial marriages are more common than in any other country in Europe.

“In the US it’s the opposite. Different peoples don’t intermarry, inter-racial marriages are still very rare. However, elites do accept racial diversity among their ranks in academics and political parties,” Zeghidour added.

But this may not be completely true.

In the article ‘Why black people in France are still invisible’, Aude Konan writes: “France has a deeply ingrained racist culture. It is very common to pretend that racism doesn’t exist and, even if it does, that it’s not that bad. Yet, in the name of the freedom of speech, racial and religious prejudices invade the public space. And when anti-racism activists denounce it, they are accused of paranoia and censoring.”

This makes you wonder how many severe incidents or issues have not being documented and why minorities don’t have a voice.

“This is an extremely serious incident of police violence and it highlights the urgent need to address police violence and discriminatory treatment of ethnic and religious minorities across Europe,” Siklossy told us.

“This incident is also symptomatic of widespread ethnic profiling by police forces, which leads to individuals being singled out for identity checks or searches because of their race, ethnicity or perceived religion, and police violence against ethnic minorities in Europe, and in particular people of African descent,” she added.

 

United Kingdom

In 2016, 18-year-old, autistic teen Mzee Mohammed was also harassed by the police but unlike Théo, Mzee died in custody in Liverpool.

He was arrested last summer by Merseyside Police for “aggressive and erratic” behaviour, after reports that Mzee was allegedly carrying a knife around a shopping centre.

Video footage of Mzee being held down by several police officers was published on the Internet. Eight security guards, 18 police officers, a police dog and a helicopter were sent to the scene all for one boy who was already on the ground.

The teenager died after allegedly becoming “unwell” in the custody of police. An ambulance was called and Mzee was taken to the Royal Liverpool Hospital where he was pronounced dead later that evening by doctors.  An IPCC investigation was opened shortly after.

Mzee’s case and death led to masses of demonstrations in across several cities in England over the treatment of black people by the police.  

Black Lives Matter Protest, London [Cheyanne Ntangu]

The death of Mzee and other black people while in the care of the state raises concerns and questions the nobility of the ones placed in a position of authority.

The director of campaign group Inquest, Deborah Coles, made a statement about Mzee‘s death: “The day after Theresa May highlighted issues about race and disproportionality in the justice system it is deeply concerning to learn of the death of a vulnerable black teenager. There needs to be the most thorough and robust scrutiny of the actions of the security guards and the police who were in contact with him moments before his death.”

Inquest statistics show a total 158 deaths in police custody or otherwise following contact with the police in England and Wales (BAME population) since 1990. This number raises caution as it the figure is relatively small.

However, national newspaper, The Guardian, claims 1,500 have died following police contact since 1990.

Additionally, the IPCC statistics indicate that six per cent of black people have died in police custody in the past decade.

Incidents such as this show the severity of racial profiling that black people face by the police and how difficult it is for blacks to wholeheartedly trust the law enforcements if they are continuously being targeted.

Moreover, how can they respect and believe the state have their best interest at heart if they continue to do nothing more than record numbers of deaths?

There is a lack of trust between Black communities and the police which arises from various methods used by the police such as ethnic profiling and lack of full investigation of racially motivated crimes,” says Georgina Siklossy.

“These practices breach fundamental rights standards and have an extremely negative impact on the minority communities targeted, often leaving innocent individuals feeling humiliated, alienated and damaged, physically and psychologically.

“Ethnic profiling leads to lower levels of trust in the police, making the very communities whose support is necessary for fighting crime and terrorism reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement authorities” she claims.

Siklossy, also tells Artefact about the non-existent policies concerning racial injustice: “There is currently no national or European policy developed to address racial inequalities and discrimination experienced by black people. Instead, we find that black people continue to be rejected, alienated and discriminated against.”

“To reverse the trend there is a need for strong and specific policies to address Afrophobia, including its structural dimensions and impact on economic and social outcomes for people of African descent and Black Europeans,” she added.

 

The Netherlands

Similarly, in the Netherlands, Arubian-born Mitch Henriquez was murdered by police in June 2015 after the night at the Park Festival in Zuiderpark in The Hague.

The killing was a result of intense police violence and his death was quickly compared to Eric Garner’s in the US.

According to the public prosecutor’s statement, the 42-year-old man was placed under arrest after claiming he had a weapon with him.

The man allegedly resisted arrest and the police then had no choice but force in order to bring him to the police station. Henriquez began to feel sick on his way to the station, so officers performed CPR. They brought him to the hospital in a critical condition.

However, family members gave a different account of the story. His cousin said: “Henriquez was joking around with a group of friends when a group of officers confronted them. Then they arrested him. His entire face was beaten black and blue.”

The eyewitness also declared on social media: “I was standing no more than four metres away from him but I didn’t hear the man say anything about having a gun. He walked away and four officers jumped on him.” And: “An officer kept beating him on his head and legs.”

There were also a series of videos showing four officers sitting on top of Henriquez, trying to gag him while holding him in a headlock and further abusing him until the man laid lifeless.

Black Lives Matter Protest, London [Cheyanne Ntangu]

Chika Matu, 21, is of Nigerian and Moroccan descent born and raised in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Matu told Artefact that when she was living in the Netherlands she dealt with racial profiling by the police.

“At the age of 14, I was arrested for “allegedly” doing something illegal. I was under age and they held me in custody until early morning without notifying my mother. They wouldn’t let me call her,” she said.

Matu also said that after being antagonised by the police, they allowed her to go, however when escorting her home they attempted to drop her off at a dead end, which was around thirty minutes away from the nearest town. She then had to insist and demand her rights before they brought her to her home.

“In Holland, black people don’t speak up much because we are the minority there. So we get silenced a lot, we get told that we’re being ungrateful and we should go back to our own countries. People in Holland are very hostile towards foreigners. They don’t believe that they have the right to speak up,” she says

“The police target black people. They go to neighbourhoods where there are more black people so that they can target them,” Matu added.

It is clear that the European Union is in need to develop standards for fair and effective policing, which should include an explicit prohibition against ethnic profiling, the collection of data on police stops and the provision of appropriate training for police officers.

As it appears that black lives hold very little value for European police forces that are composed of predominantly white men.

In order to reinforce safety and order for all communities, the EU members should ensure that national legislation and policy guidelines prohibit ethnic profiling and establish a requirement for reasonable suspicion for all police stops.

Police officers should participate in training that raises awareness of racial profiling and implicated bias.

Also, police forces should invest in the community by building and restoring trust and good relationship between the police and black and other minority communities.

As Siklossy says: “Police services need to rethink their role, their relationship to the public, their internal procedures and practices, their recruitment policies and their effectiveness in tackling crime.”

 

 

 


Featured image via Mikael Marguerie, Flickr CC

Leave a Reply