Race and Policing in the EU: A Way Forward? Part 1

Dr Iyiola Solanke

In the following two posts Dr.Iyiola Solanke examines the issues of race and policing within the EU. The first post summarises the Matrix Chambers and Leeds University School of Law Seminar on Black Experiences of Policing in the EU, held on the 24th May, while the second post goes on to examine the framework governing EU wide policing.

The first post on EUtopia in 2012 covered the belated conviction this year of two white men for the racist murder of the black Londoner Stephen Lawrence in 1993. In that post, I highlighted six lessons that could be learnt by the EU on the promotion of racial justice and racial equality using its legislative competence under Article 19 TFEU and Race Directive 2000/43, and the powers of the CJEU. The piece suggested: the collection of racial data to gain a clear idea of the parameters of the problem, the implementation and use of existing legal powers designed to combat racism, examination of the powers of the police and the way in which they are used, the use of public inquiries to rout out and address institutional racism, the clear prohibition of the N-word in public life,  and the creation of a racially diverse EU legal system that is sensitive and responsive to the concerns of black Europeans.

In the same piece I asserted that for black EU citizens, ‘the increasing levels of cross-EU co-operation in the field of policing can give rise to concern rather than comfort and asked ‘how secure are black EU citizens as they try to enjoy their Treaty rights across the Union – will the police protect or persecute them?’ I suggested that ‘If co-operation in criminal justice is not to result in the spread of racial injustice, the EU needs to incorporate a programme to root out racism in policing in the EU. Without action to tackle racism in policing, the Union is not a space for freedom, justice or security for black EU citizens.’ I concluded that the tale of Stephen Lawrence had scarred the conscience of Britain and should stir the conscience of Europe, with the EU taking the lead to ensure that every police officer and cadet in the Union knows and understands the sad story of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence.

On May 24th Matrix Chambers and Leeds University School of Law hosted the first seminar to begin a dialogue to learn more about the black experience of policing in other parts of the EU. The dialogue will continue on July 19th at the School of Law, Leeds University. The focus of these seminars is black Europeans, regardless of status – the issue is one of colour not citizenship. Policing is defined as services offered to the public by the police. This includes a range of responsibilities and duties performed by the police to protect the public, including preserving the peace, enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime, as well as protecting human rights. (Hammarberg, 2009:4). The purpose of the seminars is to create a forum to hear about the level of service and protection black people in the EU receive from the police, and also to think about the resources that exist to secure long term improvement not only in relation to the policing of racist violence but also racist and violent policing.

What is meant by ‘violent’? Violence is usually limited to physical force which incorporates bodily contact. However, violence can incorporate ‘a continuum of behaviours from the most dramatic of using a handgun to eye rolling.’[1]  Racial violence is a particular form of violence, informed by the belief that certain persons or groups of persons are a) different and b) inferior because c) they either have a different skin colour, religious, ethnic or national background. The victims of racial violence are therefore ‘selected’ based on phenotypical characteristics, and/or religious, national or cultural origin.[2] It is these general attributes rather than individual actions that determine who will be the target of violence.

Problematic policing of racist violence and racist, violent policing can occur together, as they did in the tragic case of Stephen Lawrence, where his violent racist murder was unresolved for almost two decades due to racist and violent policing. Unfortunately, even after the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, allegations of police racism continue. There are currently investigations into the alleged assault of a young black man, Maurio Demetrio, in the back of a police van and the death of Mark Duggan in 2011. The Metropolitan Police has faced over 2000 complaints of racism over the past five years – at present up to 20 of its officers are under investigation for racist behaviour on duty.

These recent revelations in Britain show that problematic policing of black communities is not historical. The five presentations at the seminar – by Udo Enwereuzor from Italy, Paloma Soria from Spain, Mouctah Bah from Germany, Henry Bonsu from Britain and Embi Jallow from Sweden – illustrated that they are not specifically British problems. There are young black men and women living throughout the EU whose lives are significantly affected by the negative interaction between the sometimes deadly brew of race, violence and policing. The problems traverse age, gender and status – they affect young and old, male and female, citizen and non-citizen alike. In Finland, for example, a trend has been identified whereby children are victimised, in 2010 a man pushed an 8-year old Somali girl off a train and called her an ‘ape’. The police apparently failed to act.

Udo Enwereuzor talked about the racial profiling and aggressive policing of black residents and other ethnic minority groups, including the Roma and Sinti populations, in Italy. These groups are policed by a ‘complex galaxy’ of law enforcement comprising as many as six different institutions – the polizia di stata, carabinieri, guardia di finanza, guardia forestale, polizia venatoria, polizia municiaple. His examples of cases involving the municipal police, the institution of choice for the policing of black and migrant residents, included the story of 22 year old Emannuel Bonsu, a legally resident Ghanaian national who for no reason was set upon, unlawfully arrested, detained, stripped and racially abused by a group of 7 police officers in Parma.

Paloma Soria discussed the work of her organisation in Spain, Women’s Link Worldwide, to seek justice for two black women, Rosalind LeCraft and Beauty Solomon who had also been the victim of racist police profiling. LeCraft had been stopped by local police in Valladolid in Spain as she disembarked a train. When she questioned why, the officer told her he had been instructed to check ‘people who look like you.’ Despite the view of the Spanish Constitutional Court that racial profiling was an appropriate approach to domestic policing, the treatment of Lecraft was condemned by the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Solomon suffered a similar but repeated racial abuse and harassment by local police in Madrid – her case continues.

Mouctar Bah from Germany explained his campaign to seek justice for Oury Jalloh. In 2005, Oury Jalloh burnt to death in a police cell in Dessau whilst shackled by his hands and feet to a fireproof mattress. Bah established the ‘Oury Jalloh Initiative’ which works with grassroots organisations and an international commission to raise awareness of Oury’s senseless death and force the German legal authorities to properly investigate and address the role of the police in it. An interim success was achieved in 2008 when the federal court in Karlsruhe over-turned the judicial acquittal in Dessau and ordered a new trial to be conducted at the federal court in Magdeburg.

Henry Bonsu discussed his time as a student in Paris, where he experienced the  precariousness of everyday life for young black men in the city. His dynamic depiction of the casual police harassment endured there mirrors the experience of young black men in Britain under stop and search. He suggested that little had improved in the intervening years since he was there but had in fact worsened to the point where, like James Baldwin, black French men now prefer to live as foreigners in London rather than as aliens in their own country.

Finally, Embi Jallow explored the ‘loud silence’ on racism in Sweden via a number of stories of policing. Most striking was the situation which saw him and his family become the direct target of death threats after his complaints about the colonial theme of an event at Lund University. The very public and overtly racist campaign included widespread use of posters emblazoned with a racist epithet and depicting him as an enchained slave. The apathetic police response to his numerous complaints surprised the audience, given the international profile of Sweden as a strong defender of human rights.

The five presentations brought a human dimension to the findings of studies[3] over the last few years which have recorded similar instances of racist treatment by law enforcement authorities, from racial profiling at train stations and in city centres to violent deaths. They also added substance to the statistics in recent reports on discrimination in the EU.  In 2010, the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) published results from its European Union Minorities and Discrimination (EU-MIDIS) Survey. Under this survey, 23,500 black and minority ethnic individuals in specific EU member states were interviewed and asked about their experiences with respect to discrimination  in everyday life. The results indicate the extent to which race makes a difference to the experience of policing in the EU. For example, many black people are victims of racist crime yet most of them do not bother to report this to the authorities. . As seen in other reports, black men and women, both citizens and non-citizens, reported that they were stopped by the police more often than white people living in the same neighbourhoods. A large number of black respondents also reported disrespectful behaviour on the part of police authorities. The report found it ‘alarming that almost half of the minority groups’ respondents stated that they had experienced situations, in which they did not report assaults, threats, or serious harassment to the police due to a lack of trust in police authorities.’

Racial violence and the abuse of human rights was the common denominator of the experiences that were shared at the seminar. Who cares about this? Who will tackle racist and violent policing to ensure that the black experience of policing is characterised by protection rather than persecution in all corners of the EU? These questions take on some urgency as the police force in Britain becomes privatised and the EU dimension of policing develops.

 ‘The next post will explore the broader issue of policing in the EU and the legislative framework governing it, and the potential role of CEPOL in encouraging greater awareness of the issues of race and policing.


[1]        See (2001: 169).

[2]        Witte (1996: 11).

[3]   Open Justice Society Institute, ‘Police Stops of Ethnic Minorities in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Spain’ 2007; Amnesty International ‘Spain: Race-related torture and ill-treatment’ 2002; Womens Link Worldwide (Spain), Amnesty International (Spain), the Open Society Institute (Spain). General studies have been undertaken by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), the European Commission on Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and more recently the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).

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