Will the EU walk the talk on tackling structural racism?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Assa Traore, sister of Adama Traore who died under police custody, speaks to the press in front of a fresco representing Adama Traore and George Floyd in Stains, near Paris, France, 22 June 2020. [Yoan Valat/EPA]

As the college of commissioners will discuss racism in Europe during its weekly meeting on Wednesday (24 June), activists Karen Taylor, Amiirah Salleh-Hoddin and Ghyslain Vedeux urge the EU to take real action against the phenomenon.

Karen Taylor is the chair, and Amiirah Salleh-Hoddin and Ghyslain Vedeux vice-chairs of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).

For weeks now, since the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police in the United States, mass protests have been taking place across Europe to call for recognition of and action against police violence and structural racism in Europe.

Now European institutions are responding to this massive mobilisation, after maintaining a deafening silence on the reality of police brutality in Europe. One EU Commissioner, MargaritisSchinas, even went as far as denying that police violence, discriminatory policing and institutional racism are an issue here. But will they walk the talk?

Last week, the European Parliament voted a Resolution on anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyenannounced the Commission would hold a debate on racism on 24 June.

These initiatives are a testament to the importance of the large public movement demanding racial justice and of acknowledging the urgency of tackling racism in Europe. However, it is disappointing that we had to wait for an urgent situation for such a reaction.

Also, the lack of acknowledgement of police brutality in the EU is significant when the Resolution explicitly states the death of George Floyd. Until now, there has been little willingness to address institutional and structural racism in the European Union, both at the level of EU institutions and member state governments.

This lack of reaction reflects a denial of the long-standing existence of systems of oppression in European societies, of historical injustices and persistent racial inequalities in areas of housing, healthcare, employment and education, as well as repeated experiences of state violence and impunity.

Anti-racist organisations have been pushing for the EU to address structural racism for decades, so it came as a surprise when European Commission President Ursula von der Leyenlast week acknowledged the lack of diversity in EU institutions and said “we need to talk about racism, and we need to act”, yet so far has not bothered to involve anti-racist organisations and activists from racialised groups.

The European Parliament resolution was also a rushed process without proper consultation of civil society organisations. This says a lot about the institutional approach to anti-racism.

There is a real risk EU institutions are reproducing the structural racism they are trying to address. If the European Commission really wants to walk the talk, it should recognise and include the movement demanding racial justice and anti-racist activists from racialised groups.

Community-led organisations not only understand the perspective of racialised groups but are also highly-skilled experts in the field of anti-discrimination the movement demanding racial justice and anti-racist activists from racialised groups.

It should also build on and follow up some of the strong call for EU action in the European Parliament Resolution, which includes a comprehensive European Commission strategy against racism, an EU framework for the adoption of national action plans against racism, the recognition of past oppressions, and the collection of equality data disaggregated by race and ethnic origin to identify how and where racial discrimination is taking place.

The resolution also puts forward short-term measures for member state governments to counter institutional racism in the police – including on racial profiling, police accountability and independent investigation of abuses.

There are however some major gaps that also need to be corrected. The resolution lacks a strategic vision on how to tackle structural racism at different levels and how it affects specifically different racialised minorities (such as Roma and Muslims).

It fails to meaningfully acknowledge the lethal consequences of racist police brutality for European racialised groups and to propose long-term measures for the future of policing in Europe, especially a reflection on the use of violence and on diverting resources from law enforcement to services that serve the community.

The EU’s migration agenda focused on security reinforces police brutality at the borders, yet there is no mention of addressing violence against migrants.

Although they come late, the European Parliament and European Commission’s recent anti-racism initiatives mean some progress, but only if they do not stop at mere lip service and are followed by action and concrete measures to dismantle institutional and structural racism in Europe, in close collaboration with movements for racial equality.

We will remain vigilant to ensure these calls lead to long-overdue action, at the EU level but also within member states. Action means ensuring justice for all racialised communities when they experience state violence and impunity through inquiries and strong sanctions.

It means recognising and preventing abuses in policing practices such as racial profiling and reflecting on the use of violence in policing. It means addressing persistent racial inequalities in areas of housing, healthcare, employment and education.

It means reparations for historical injustices including colonialism. We need leadership to ensure this happens, and until it does, we will continue to mobilise for systemic change.

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