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Ethnic profiling by police target of new campaign
Seven human rights organisations in Belgium are co-operating on a campaign targeted at ending ethnic profiling in police departments. The campaign describes the experiences people of colour have on a daily basis and asks for transparency and the ability for victims of ethnic profiling to file a complaint.
Ethnic profiling refers to the influence that the colour of the person’s skin has on police officers when they decide to stop citizens on the street. People of colour are much more likely to be stopped and questioned than white people doing the same thing, like driving slowly or standing in a doorway.
Under the tagline “Not Normal?! Stop Ethnic Profiling”, the campaign will run for two years. It is being carried out by seven organisations on both sides of the language borders, including Amnesty International, the Human Rights League and the Minority Forum.
“Ethnic profiling is about stopping someone and checking their ID with no probable cause,” Eveline Vandevelde of Amnesty International told VRT. “It happens regularly to citizens with a different skin colour or with a migration background – everyone who looks ‘different’. It’s discrimination, and we want it to end.”
It is a technique that is often employed by police, said Vandevelde. “For people with a migration background, this is such a common occurrence that it is a ‘normal’ part of their lives.” Hence the name of the campaign: Not Normal. “If the police detain you for no reason except that you are not white, that has an immense impact. It is humiliating, frustrating and damages trust in the police.”
Amnesty International carried out a study in 2018 in which police authorities in Belgium admitted that it happens. The campaign comes with a number of personal testimonies, such as from Mostafa, who was questioned by police at a tram stop for drumming on his mobile phone, which they found suspicious. Nyira was driving slowly trying to find her way when she was stopped and searched for drugs. Manassé, meanwhile, was also stopped in his car and asked to show its papers. He did and was then asked if he was selling drugs.
“These are all examples of wrongful treatment of people with a skin colour,” says Vandevelde.
The campaign has been in the works for quite some time, but the collective decided to launch it now in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the protests in the US and around the world, including Belgium. “We decided to use the momentum of the movement to show ethnic profiling the door.”
The goal of the campaign is to change the system at a structural level. Vandevelde: “Police officers need to know what they can and cannot do. And we want to see an accessible, independent system in place for victims of ethnic profiling to file a complaint. The problem needs to be officially recognised and a legal framework put in place.”