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September 15, 2021
Social Justice


Insight by Sara Manisera, FADA Collective

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a white police officer triggered a long series of protests that also reached major European cities. The people who took to the streets, united under the slogan 'Black Lives Matter', demonstrated to show solidarity with the Afro-American population of the United States, victims of systematic police violence. These demonstrations, however, also raised questions about the situation in Europe, where the problem of police racism is very often ignored by the media and institutions.

Cases of young boys of African or Arab backgrounds being killed by the police in recent years are also increasing in the European Union. As the report 'Being Black in the EU' highlights, almost a third of black Europeans experienced racist harassment in the five years prior to the report's publication in 2018. Michael O'Flaherty, director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (EUAFA), which compiled the report, said that "racial discrimination and harassment is widespread in the EU and racial profiling by the police is a common practice".

But what is meant by ethnic profiling?

 "Any discriminatory behaviour or practice carried out by police and public security authorities or other public actors against individuals and justified on the grounds of their race, religion, national origin, rather than their individual behaviour or the fact that they fit the description of a 'suspect'". (European Commission, letter of 7 July 2006).

"The use or influence of racial, ethnic and religious stereotypes by police forces in their activities and with respect to decisions concerning the apprehension, arrest, search, identification and control of people's documents, the entry of personal data into databases, the collection of intelligence information and with respect to other investigative techniques" (J. Goldston, Executive Director of the Open Society Justice Initiative in Ethnic profiling and counter-Terrorism: Trends, Dangers and Alternatives, June 2006).

The practice of racial profiling is increasingly at the centre of numerous national and international debates. In each country it is taking on different relevance. In January 2021, young people from some minority groups living in Brussels clashed with the police after the death of a 23-year-old black boy in custody. Both the French and Spanish governments are facing lawsuits over discriminatory police checks. In France, for example, Human Rights Watch together with five other French and international organisations launched a class action against the French government to push it to adopt structural reforms to end the long-standing scourge of ethnic profiling by the police in France. Meanwhile, on 24 November 2020, the National Assembly passed a controversial 'global security' law that sparked widespread demonstrations. Debate in the Senate began on 3 March 2021 and, if passed, will make it a crime to share images and videos identifying police officers. At the same time, the law will allow police to use drones and mass surveillance mechanisms, such as facial recognition systems, which could amplify police racism and expose ethnic minorities, who are more at risk of being identified, as Amnesty International denounces.

Racial profiling by police officers in France is a widespread and well-documented problem. National and international organisations, French human rights institutions and the United Nations have called on France to take steps to prevent and punish ethnic or racial discrimination by police officers. One of the most notorious cases is that of Adama Traoré who was killed while in French police custody in 2016. After the police informed the family that he had died of cardiac arrest and tried to hastily repatriate his body to Mali, the Traoré family managed to obtain permission for a second autopsy, which found that he had died of asphyxiation. After four years of investigation, those responsible have still not been convicted.

The protests following the death of George Floyd last year caused a wave of demonstrations and indignation in France as well. His case is not the only one. According to the NGO 'La Police Assassine' ('The police kill'), almost 100 people were killed by the French police between 2005 and 2015. Plataforma Gueto, a social movement on blacks in Portugal stated that 8 blacks between 14 and 30 years old were killed by the police between 2002 and 2013.

And in Italy?

Episodes of "ethnic profiling" also exist in Italy but, as Kwanza Musi Dos Santos, 28, diversity management consultant, activist and co-founder of the association Questa è Roma explains, "we do not have the tools to measure it and to say that this is a systemic problem. Through social media and the complaints of some associations, we understand that it exists but we don't know the extent because we don't measure it and because there are no funds for research".

Dos Santos also explains the differences in ethnic profiling between Italy, France and the US. "Unlike the US and France, where black equals criminal, in Italy black is associated with foreigner. Clearly it is still racism but it takes different forms. In Italy, if they see a black person, they ask you where you are from or to show your residence permit. The truth is that the history of black people in Italy has been erased and therefore all black people are still considered foreigners. We need to invest in the training of the police to solve the problem and to avoid that these forms of racism and ignorance take on French or American dimensions".

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