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September 20, 2023
Social Justice

Ethnic profiling is present in Italy but data and statistics are missing

Insight by Adil Mauro

"We are not inventing anything, this problem exists and affects the lives of many people in Italy every day". Shahzeb Mohammad, secretary of the Cittadini del Mondo association of Ferrara and coordinator of the Yaya Project, has no doubts: ethnic (or racial) profiling is present in our country.

This practice carried out by the police forces can consist of control, surveillance or investigation operations against specific individuals or groups on the basis of prejudices based on skin colour, language, religion, nationality or origin ethnic.

Ethnic profiling is not a "perception" of the people or groups involved, just as the individual episodes that occasionally come to the attention of public opinion, see the case of footballer Tiemouè Bakayoko stopped and searched by the police last summer in Milan. It's not a matter of isolated incidents but instead, as recalled by ASGI (Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration), "outlines a framework of systemic racism that violates the principle of non-discrimination sanctioned by article 3 of the italian constitution and various international obligations".

As ASGI does explain, “Italy has ratified and is bound by the UN Convention for the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. According to the General Recommendation n. 36 of 2020 of CERD, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which oversees its implementation, from the Convention derives the obligation for the Contracting States' to review their policies, laws and regulations in order to ensure that racial profiling does not occur and is not facilitated' and to 'actively adopt measures to eliminate discrimination through laws, policies and institutions'”.

Talking about it publicly is essential to tackling the issue, but up-to-date data is also needed to go beyond just news stories about law enforcement stops and abuses against racialized people. Regarding this matter, the only institutional material that also concerns our country is the study "Being black in Europe", carried out by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in 2018. Among the people stopped in the 12 months before the survey, 70% of Italian champion believed that the last police check was due to racial reasons. The research was conducted between 2015 and 2016 through targeted interviews with almost six thousand Afro-descendants in twelve different countries, including Italy.

Mohammad is also part of Occhio ai media, a group born in 2010 within Cittadini del Mondo. This is a newsroom that flags articles discriminating against ethnic minorities in the press.

The issue of ethnic profiling was tackled for the first time by activists from Ferrara with the 2019 video interview entitled "Beware of the ethnic profile", which contrasts the awareness of white boys who are not subject to this type of practice to the experiences lived by young people of different foreign origins and with different skin colors. The project then underwent a temporary suspension due to the emergency linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We did two media monitoring in 2019 and 2020, immediately noticing how often non-white people were targeted during law enforcement checks”, explains Mohammad. “The focus of our work at the time, however, was not on ethnic profiling. We wanted to talk about the GAD area, a multi-ethnic neighborhood in Ferrara around the railway station often described by the press as problematic. After making a documentary on the GAD area, to show how people really live in that area and not how it is told by the media, we focused on the issue of ethnic profiling. First we documented ourselves and later we arrived at the collaboration with the anthropology department of the Goldsmiths University of London. From there the project started, with the awareness that the only way to show the problem is to collect the testimonies of the people who experience this practice firsthand".

The name of the project is a tribute to Yaya Yafa, a 22-year-old Guinean resident in Ferrara. On 21 October 2021 he lost his life on the third day of work at the Bologna Interport. After his death, a group of friends, together with Cittadini del Mondo, formed the Coordinamento per Yaya. This tragic event has made even more urgent the need to act against the discrimination affecting racialized people. From an initial collection of testimonies from people who have had experiences of ethnic profiling, the project entitled in memory of Yaya began to take shape.

During the first half of 2023, the activists of the Coordinamento per Yaya, Occhio ai media e Cittadini del Mondo - with the patronage of Goldsmiths College of London - organized and participated in workshops held both in Ferrara and London.

The first international conference on ethnic profiling was held on 28 April 2023, at the law department of the University of Ferrara, with the participation of the London-based monitoring group Account Hackney. The following day, at the headquarters of the Cittadini del Mondo association, a debate was held on racial profiling and a comparison between the Italian and English situations.

Collaboration and sharing of good practices with other national and international realities is perhaps the most important aspect of the Yaya Project, as underlined by Robert Elliott, a British citizen who has lived in Ferrara for forty years and is one of the founders of the Cittadini del Mondo association.

“The goal of the international conference on April 28 and the workshop on April 29 that we organized in Ferrara was to launch the debate on racial profiling in Italy”, says Elliot. “I think we succeeded in a very solid and concrete way. The heart of these two days were the speeches of ACCOUNT members. Yolanda Lear, one of the London group's activists, told us that initially, when they attended meetings scheduled by the police to manage tensions between the community and the police, they were not taken seriously. The only way to not be treated like that again was to show up with stats and data. I believe that for the few realities that follow the issue of racial profiling in Italy it was a very important moment to listen to these testimonies. We hope we have laid the groundwork for a network to address this issue and give racialised people the support they need”.

Photo by Luca Greco. 

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