The NGO takes the example of Seine-Saint-Denis, the poorest department in metropolitan France, with a large share of the immigrant population and where “the number of tickets for breaches of confinement was three times higher than in the rest of the country”.
Violence, discriminatory identity checks, forced quarantine measures, tickets, ethnic minorities were targeted “disproportionately”, by police in Europe as part of the monitoring of compliance with containment measures, Amnesty International reveals in a report published on Wednesday 24 June (in English). The report on the situation in 12 European countries including France “highlights a worrying trend towards racist prejudice within the police force, also suspected of practicing institutional racism”.
“Police violence and concerns about institutional racism are not new, but the scale of the Covid-19 pandemic and the coercive control over the application of the resulting containment measures have revealed their scale”, says Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s researcher for Western Europe.
The triple threat of discrimination, the unlawful use of force and police impunity must be tackled urgently.
According to the Amnesty International report, “the police disproportionately enforced compliance with the confinement measures in the poorest regions, where the proportion of persons belonging to ethnic minorities is often higher”. The NGO takes the example of Seine-Saint-Denis, the poorest department in mainland France “where a high proportion of the population is black or of North African origin.” Here, “The number of containment violation tickets was three times higher than in the rest of the country”, whereas according to local authorities “compliance with containment measures was similar to what it was elsewhere in France”.
In Nice, several districts, the inhabitants of which belong mainly to the working class and to ethnic minorities, have been subjected to longer curfews than the rest of the city.
UK, “London police recorded a 22% increase in search operations between March and April 2020. Over this period, the share of black people subjected to searches increased by almost a third”.
The Amnesty International study was carried out during confinement and therefore remotely, but the NGO “Checked 34 videos from all over Europe showing police officers using force illegally, when it was often not needed”. These videos, all over Europe, have one thing in common, notes Nicolas Krameyer, head of the freedom program for Amnesty International France: “a large number of videos showing the illegal use of force by the police come from underprivileged areas with an extremely large population of foreign origin”.
In a video posted on March 29, two law enforcement officers arrested a young man, apparently of North African origin, on a street in Bilbao, Spain. He does not seem to pose a threat, but the police force him to be violently pushed and beat him with a baton. While holding him against a wall, hands behind his back, his mother arrives at the scene and informs the police that his son is mentally ill. She was then hit with a baton, before being hit by three officers on the ground.
Amnesty International calls on European countries to fundamentally reform police practices, including banning the use of force except as a last resort, and putting in place statistics to study racism in the police. The 11 countries covered by the report are, in addition to France, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Spain, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Romania, the United Kingdom, Serbia and Slovakia.