In the light of the recent and recurring events of police brutality against Black people in European countries, the United States and beyond, Portuguese police have now added to this structural violence. During a routine incursion on 5 February in the Cova da Moura neighborhood in Lisbon, one person was arrested by the police. Despite not offering resistance the person was physically assaulted by several police officers. Bystanders protesting the brutal behavior of the policemen were not only intimidated verbally, but also threatened and persecuted with batons and rubber bullets. A non-violent resident had to receive medical treatment after being hit by several rubber bullets.
After these incidents, several residents, witnesses to the brutal and unlawful behavior of the policemen, went to the Alfragide police station to inquire the arrest and present a complaint against the violent intervention. Instead of hearing and protecting the residents who turned to the authorities, the residents were equally detained and physically assaulted. The physical violence towards the residents of Cova da Moura by the police was so severe that they had to receive medical assistance. According to the testimony of one of the victims, a police officer said while beating them: “You Africans must die”. Further, the police compared Black people with monkeys and said that they would exterminate Black people. Yet the victims of police violence remained in custody and their regularly scheduled hearing was refused by the prosecutor and only took place two days after the detention. Even though the residents were released later on, they were subjected to coercion measures and accused of resistance, while the police authorities did not issue any statement regarding the accusations of physical assault.
As concerning as the incident itself is also the media coverage and the framing of the events. Not only was the version of the police emphasized and put in foreground, Metropolitan Lisbon Police spokesman Hugo Abreu for instance, also left out facts, such as the medical assistance needed by the detainees after the physical assault by the policemen. This is an all too familiar and more than alarming pattern, which has been observed in other cases where European or American police officers reinforce stereotypes of Black individuals as marginal violent individuals in order to justify violent and unlawful behavior towards them. The inquiry by the residents at the police station for example was presented as an ‘attempted invasion of the police station’ by some media, while other referred disproportionately to the ‘problematic neighborhoods’, suggesting a racist image of the concerned individuals. If one remembers the case of Michael Brown, an 18 year-old unarmed boy, who got fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, USA, these events again uncover criminalization and racial profiling by law enforcement and public opinion leaders. Even after the deadly assault of Michael Brown, media did not hesitate to publish material where the victim showed “criminal behavior”, an alleged theft of chewing gum. By framing Black youth as criminal and problematic, attention is withdrawn from unlawful and racially motivated violent behavior by law enforcement and prejudices are reinforced.
Portuguese police and public institutions have shown resistance to acknowledging and tackling institutional and systemic racism, which is vehemently demanded by grassroots and anti-racist organizations. These organizations have collected data, which shows that within ten years (2000-2014), about 40 individuals were killed by policemen under nebulous circumstances and that a disproportionate number of those individuals (one third) were black youth; such as the 14 year-old Kuku and the 15 year-old Musso.
The European Network for People of African Descent (ENPAD) condemns not only the ignorance of the Portuguese public institutions towards injustice and racism in general, but particularly calls for further investigation of the police brutality that took place at the beginning of this month. ENPAD also expresses solidarity with the victims of racial profiling and police brutality in Portugal and other countries and is determined to continuing the fight for justice and the veritable rule of law.
Signing parties of the Network:
ISD - Initiative of Black People in Germany
Nederland Wordt Beter - the Netherlands
Zwarte Piet Niet - the Netherlands
Narrative Eye - UK
PAWLO - Germany (Pan-African Women´s Liberation Organization)
Ebony Organization, Arts and Human Rights
AUADS; African Union African Diaspora sixth Region Germany
AK Panafrikanismus - Panafricanism Working Group Germany
Fight Racism Now (FRN) - Sweden
AkiDwA - National network for migrant women in Ireland
New Urban Collective - the Netherlands
ADYNE; African Diaspora youth Network in Europe
Raad Van de Afrikaanse Gemeenschappen in Europa - RVDAGE/VL vzw Belgium
ADEFRA Grassroots e.V. - Germany
D’HERO; Decades of Heroes for the Elimination of Racism and Oppression- the Netherlands
Africa Council Berlin /Brandenburg - Germany
CRAN - le Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires de France