Edition 1453
09 December 2017
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Demands for racism to be criminalised

by Brendan de Beer, in News · 26-02-2015 13:34:00 · 0 Comments

While the Left Bloc is one of the smaller parties with a presence in Parliament, its proposal for the majority coalition government to criminalise racism could be one of the lasting legacies of its current legislative mandate. The proposal to declare racism a crime comes after a month of protests which followed claims of police brutality in the Cova da Moura neighbourhood whose inhabitants are mostly black. An independent organisation with consultancy powers at the UN has also since alleged that 40 youths died between 2000 and 2010 during police action.

Demands for racism to be criminalised

“We are seeking a revision of the
Penal Code in order to make room
for racism to be criminalised, a
feature which the Code currently does not possess”, Left Bloc MP Cecília Honório said this week.
The demand came after a public hearing in Parliament’s Senate Hall concerning allegations of a spike in police brutality and other forms of institutionalised racism.
The public debate, staged on Tuesday evening, attracted around 60 interested parties, including community leaders from a number of Lisbon’s council estates, and focussed heavily on proposals aimed at police action in these neighbourhoods.
“This was a debate centred on police violence, on racism and the need to continue to bring to light other forms of discrimination which these people in these fringe neighbourhoods experience.
“We have heard witnesses with intense testimonies that this sort of violence forms part of the daily existence of these people”, the Left Bloc MP was quoted as telling Lusa News Agency after the meeting.
In a subsequent statement issued on Wednesday by the Left Bloc, the party said it was commonplace “to hear in these neighbourhoods that blacks are to be eliminated.”
According to the Left Bloc, these reports are “absolutely deafening” and are calling for a “profound debate on the multiple forms of racism Portuguese society continues to endure.”
The MP added that “studies, including a recent UN report, show that communities of African origin have limited access to education and public services” and that these “communities are also under-represented.”
The Left Bloc also called for tighter evaluation of police forces who they said should be subjected to anti-racist training on the ground, a feature which the party says should form part of the anti-racism laws it is proposing.
Jakilson Pereira, representing Plataforma Gueto, lamented the problems between communities and the police, and accused law enforcement of exhibiting what he termed “generalised violent behaviour.”
He argued that “while the community does not want to stand in the way of police work, it demands respect, and called on society to take note that the rule of law is often suspended in these areas.”
Mamdou Ba, leader of SOS Racismo, revealed that “police violence is a structural issue and most, if not all state institutions, are infected by racism.
“There has to be a law change. Racism has to be criminalised and should be regarded as an urgent matter by Parliament. They [police] cannot come into neighbourhoods as if they were entering a war zone”, stressed Mamdou Ba.
This debate came a fortnight after several hundred people demonstrated outside Portugal’s parliament in protest at the handling by local police of incidents at a police station in Amadora, near the Cova da Moura neighbourhood.
The protestors brandished placards and banners bearing phrases such as ‘Punishment for crimes of police racism and brutality’ and ‘We want justice. End police violence’.
These events unfolded after five youths, aged between 23 and 25 were detained after they - according to police – “tried to invade” Alfragide police station, after the arrest of another youth from Cova da Moura.
The five detainees were later taken to the local hospital in a condition that, according to Ba, showed that they had been “very ill treated.”
A police spokesman later said that the youngsters had only slight injuries, resulting from their having “resisted arrest.”
During the police operation, officers fired rubber bullets as they sought to disperse a group of local residents who were protesting at the way the first detainee had been treated. A woman, who was on the balcony of her apartment was hit by three of these bullets, according to Ba, with photos of her bruises later appearing on social media.
Police Internal Affairs has in the meantime announced that it will investigate the police actions.
In a statement sent to The Portugal News by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), an independent, non-profit, campaign, research and advocacy organisation based in London, which has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, it is claimed that 40 young people were killed during police action in Portugal between 2000 and 2010.
The organisation made these findings after using data supplied by political activists such as Mamdou Ba and members of Plataforma Gueto.
The IHRC statement explains that these deaths occurred mainly in the Lisbon metropolitan area and the figure for black youth was over one third, which it says is a “largely disproportionate figure regarding the total population.”
It adds that “no conviction of a police officer for any of the killings had been achieved so far, and only one case went on trial in a court of justice. Therefore, these recent events cannot be read as isolated cases in the European context.”
The IHRC adds that what it has witnessed in Portugal is “revealing of the contemporary climate of criminalisation and racial profiling of black youth in Europe.”

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Edition 1453
09 December 2017
Edition: 1453

Read this week's issue online exactly as it appears in print.

Twitter