COVID-19 lockdown measures have exacerbated racial profiling and police violence, says report

The report by the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) comes after a weekend of fresh protests in countries around the world over the death of George Floyd in the United States.

Brussels anti-racism protest in support of Black Lives Matter, 7 June 2020 | Photo credit: PA Images

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

08 Jun 2020


A report on the Coronavirus pandemic by Brussels-based NGO ENAR says that the killing of Floyd “has once again exposed racist police brutality.”

George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis on 25 May. A video showed him pinned to the floor, with white police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes.

Chauvin has been dismissed and charged with murder. Three other officers who were at the scene have also been sacked and charged with aiding and abetting.

ENAR’s report states, “Recent events and data have revealed how racial profiling and police violence also target racialised communities in Europe and have been exacerbated during COVID-19.”


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The NGO now wants “urgent measures” to “ensure justice for communities and hold law enforcement accountable.”

It claims that “more enforcement powers” given to police forces in many countries as part of COVID-19 lockdown measures is “disproportionately affecting racial and ethnic minorities, who have been subjected to discriminatory checks and fines, racial profiling, and heavy-handed police tactics and violence.”

ENAR chair Karen Taylor told this website, “COVID-19 lockdown measures are exacerbating what racial and ethnic minorities have been experiencing for decades at the hands of the police: discriminatory stop and search, abuse, violence and even death.”

“Ensuring fair and effective policing practices and justice for communities is now beyond urgent.”

"People of colour are dying because of deadly police practices and excessive checks and controls, not only in the United States, but also here, in Europe. There is no reason why someone should die following an interaction with the police" Karen Taylor, ENAR Chair

ENAR alleges that “arbitrary checks with clear indications of racial profiling and a disproportionate focus on certain areas where many racialised groups live” have taken place since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak in March.

Its report says, “In France for instance, official data indicate disproportionate numbers of checks and fines in working-class neighbourhoods with a high number of racial and ethnic minority residents.”

“There have also been several cases of police brutality against people from racialised groups in the context of COVID-19. To date, three people from racialised groups have died in interactions with the police.”

Taylor added, “People of colour are dying because of deadly police practices and excessive checks and controls, not only in the United States, but also here, in Europe.”

“There is no reason why someone should die following an interaction with the police. Their mandate is first to protect everybody in an equal way and not only to enforce justice. If we do not raise attention to this issue, the police will continue to operate with impunity. It seems that racialised bodies cannot occupy public spaces in peace.”

The NGO wants action taken to “combat discriminatory police practices in enforcing lockdown measures.”

Incidents, in particular where violence is involved, should be publicly condemned and “accessible, effective and independent” complaint mechanisms should be available.

"America has a long and tragic history of police brutality. At the heart of this lies racism and segregation based on history. This is a systematic problem that needs to be addressed at all levels in the US" Karin Karlsbro MEP

The report goes on to say that authorities should collect and publish data “disaggregated by neighbourhood and by ethnicity on checks, fines and prosecutions to enforce lockdown measures.”

Member State governments must adopt measures to combat and prevent racism in law enforcement, including prohibiting racial profiling, adopting more severe sanctions in cases of police violence and abuse, and increasing racial diversity and police training.

It adds, “A first step in this direction would be to order an independent public review of law enforcement to identify policies and practices that lead to institutional racism within the police, as was done for instance in the UK with the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.”

Lawrence was a black British teenager from London who was murdered in a racially motivated attack while waiting for a bus on 22 April 1993.

The killing of George Floyd continues to provoke worldwide outrage. In the UK, protesters pulled down a statue dedicated to a slave trader, while on Monday protests in several US cities entered their third week.

On June 5, Members of Parliament's subcommittee on human rights held a debate with invited experts on the human rights situation in the United States, with several deputies expressing concern about US police action.

Finnish Greens MEP Heidi Hautala told the meeting, mostly held online, that “the police should not be there to shoot when some loot. The police should be there to protect and it is clear that widespread reforms in the law enforcement in the United States are needed.”

Further condemnation came from Irish EPP deputy Sean Kelly who told the committee that some of the problems was due to a “failure of leadership.”

"In the wake of his [Floyd’s] death, European leaders need to urgently reflect and commit to tackling the structural racism and discrimination faced by many minority groups" Dacian Cioloș, Renew Europe leader

What happened to Floyd was “chilling in the extreme” he said, adding, “I think it indicates what can happen when you have poor leadership. Leaders can either divide or unite. The good unite but the bad divide. That is what we see unfortunately in America at the moment."

Swedish RE member Karin Karlsbro agreed, saying, “America has a long and tragic history of police brutality. At the heart of this lies racism and segregation based on history. This is a systematic problem that needs to be addressed at all levels in the US.”

RE leader Dacian Cioloș said the “appalling murder” had “sent shockwaves across the world and Europe cannot be silent.”

The Romanian deputy added, “In the wake of his death, European leaders need to urgently reflect and commit to tackling the structural racism and discrimination faced by many minority groups.”

The RE group has issued a statement, also condemning the “police crackdowns on peaceful US protesters and European journalists.”

It reads, “Racism has divided the United States for too long and these brutal police killings of the black community must end in order for the country to heal and become whole again. Peaceful protests should not be hijacked by those seeking violence.”

The group has called for a full plenary debate before the summer recess  and a “clear position” from Parliament to address the issues which it says “are fuelled by populistic and extremists movements who try to divide our societies, attacking the foundations of our common values - and also the issue of police brutality against minority groups.”

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