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The advent of American-style policing is causing Euorpeans of color to be concerned about its impact on race relations.
By Wendell P. Simpson
When protests erupted in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police, it was seen as the next battleground for the fight against police brutality that began in Ferguson, Missouri with the death of Michael Brown.
But while American news organizations were flocking to Baltimore to cover the unrest, European news organizations were grappling with their own issues with police brutality and racism.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, immigrants have been coming to Southern and Western Europe from North and West Africa in search of opportunity. Some are undocumented while others are taking advantage of the European Union’s liberal immigration policies and the refusal on the part of some countries to track ethnicities.
What is clear, however, is that these new arrivals to Western Europe DO face a prevalence of racism and racist stereotypes. These populations routinely face discrimination in housing, employment and policing. In Paris, blacks are six times more likely to be stopped by police that their white counterparts. In Spain, people of color are routinely stopped for ID checks.
According to organizers from London, Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam, European solidarity with “Black Lives Matter” goes beyond sympathy for black Americans—it is part of a movement to end racist policing in Europe.
Adnan Andalib, a British Muslim of Indian descent, is part of a growing Black Lives Matter movement in London who has seen racial profiling become part of the paradigm of growing up as a person of color in the United Kingdom.
Growing up in South Africa made Andalib, and other Indians, so sensitive to the struggle of their Black neighbors that they became members of the then-outlawed African Nation Congress to support their fight against apartheid.
“My parents lived in South Africa during the last days of apartheid,” Andalib said. “My grandparents were subject to the full measure of apartheid as ‘colored’ persons there. I heard many stories of abuse—coloreds were subject to persecution, too—but not to the extent that black people were.”
In 2007, London Metropolitan Police shot and killed a young Black man in the Tottenham section of the city named Mark Duggan. After an internal investigation by police showed that Duggan was innocent of any wrong doings, London was rocked by days of rioting and protests which resulted in extensive fire damage to parts of West and East London and the deaths of 25 persons.
Protestors took to the streets of London following the death of 21-year-old Julian Cole, a black Brit who has been in a vegetative state since 2013, when police allegedly left him with spinal injuries similar to those suffered by Gray in the back of a police van.
“The British bobby is a stereotype that hardly if ever existed for Africans and African Caribbeans living in the UK,” says Kojo Kyerewaa, coordinator of the London Campaign Against Police and State Violence to the Voice newspaper, the UK’s premier Afro-British newspaper. “Police in Britain may not carry firearms as standard issue, but they have shot and killed unarmed black people.”
And at Berlin, Germany’s May Day parade, activists with Berlin’s “Ferguson Is Everywhere” campaign distributed signs emblazoned with the names of Christy Schwundeck, Dominique Kouamadio and Oury Jalloh—people of color killed by German police in the past 10 years.
According to French national newspaper, on May 18th, hundreds of Parisians marched to protest the acquittal of two police officers who, in 2005, allegedly did nothing to prevent the accidental electrocution death of two teenagers— one black, one of Arab descent—who had run into an off-limits power facility while being pursued by police.
“I’m disgusted,” said a relative of one of the young men upon exiting the courthouse. “The police are untouchable.”
The slogans that have defined the U.S. protests have crossed the Atlantic: “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and “Black Lives Matter” are common chants. At a November 2014 protest in Amsterdam, a young black man being violently subdued by police gasped, “Ik kan niet ademen,” Dutch for “I can’t breathe”—echoing Eric Garner’s last words.
The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked solidarity actions around the world, from São Paulo to Delhi. But in Europe, actions have been particularly frequent, insistently drawing attention to the plight of black minority populations policed by majority-white forces.
“We face the same problems, just in a different place,” says Jessica de Abreu, board member of the New Urban Collective in Amsterdam, pointing to the Netherlands’ history of slavery and colonialism as the common bond between African Americans and Afro-Dutch.
The Netherlands, like France, England, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Germany, were instrumental in the transatlantic slave trade and maintained colonies in Africa well into the 20th century. Historically, waves of migration from Africa have been closely bound with slavery and colonialism, from the some 200,000 slaves brought to Europe between the 15th and 19th centuries, to the thousands of North Africans invited to France to fight in WWII and to rebuild after the war.
“The Brits aren’t oblivious to this kind of trauma,” says Esther Hua, an American working in London as a social worker. “The Brits don’t really want to become like Americans—for them, ALL lives matter and they want their society to reflect that ideal…”