Thursday

21st Jan 2021

'Black Lives Matter' protests spread in corona-hit EU

  • Brussels, Sunday 7 June. Most demonstrators were wearing face masks - although the density of the crowd in many big cities made social distancing almost impossible (Photo: EUobserver)

Protests against racism and police brutality have spread throughout Europe following the US police brutal killing of 46-year-old African American George Floyd.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions, a large number of people at the weekend took the streets of EU countries like the UK, Hungary, Spain, Belgium, Denmark and Italy to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

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"The current protests that are spreading across the continent highlight that discrimination and violence against black people is not only a problem of one country - it is commonplace," the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights told EUobserver on Monday (8 June).

In the UK, protesters in London defaced on Sunday the statue of the former British prime minister Winston Churchill, spraying "...was a racist" underneath his name.

While a statue of the 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down and thrown it into the harbour in Bristol - itself a former slave-trading port..

Thousands gathered in Brussels on Sunday to speak out against racial discrimination in a largely-peaceful protest, followed by some disruptions and clashes between police and protesters.

Meanwhile, statues of the Belgian colonial-era King Leopold II were defaced in several cities.

Last week, more than 20,000 people marched in Paris to remember the black 24-year-old, Adama Traore, who died in police custody in 2016.

The sister of Traore, Assa Traoré, told protesters last Tuesday that "what's happening in the US has shone a light on what's happening in France".

Similarly, Spanish protested remembered the deaths of Senegalese Mame Mbaye and Mor Sylla when marching on the streets of Barcelona and Madrid on Sunday.

Meanwhile, a black protester in Denmark told local media how her family and herself still experience racism after 23 years living in the Scandinavian country.

Most people at the EU demonstrations appeared to be wearing face masks, although the density of the crowds in many big cities made social distancing almost impossible - drawing criticism from public health authorities who worry about potential new coronavirus outbreaks.

"If racism did not exist, 10,000 people would not have had to remind Brussels that we are all equal," the virologist Emmanuel André tweeted, regarding the Belgian protests.

'Sick and tired'

While the EU and member state leaders quickly condemned the killing of George Floyd and police brutality in the US, they remain mostly cautious when assessing the situation within the bloc.

Earlier this year, European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas said that US-style policing crisis was "unlikely" in Europe.

However, according to the director of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), Michael Privot, "there is a tendency in most European countries to deny the long-standing existence of systems of oppression in European societies".

"Racial discrimination is still widely spread across the world, as well as in Europe, and it is something I have experienced all my life, [but] what we are witnessing right now could be a turning point for real change," MEP Alice Kuhnke from the Greens told this website.

"The economic impact of Covid-19 in combination with decades of systematic racism and police brutality has apparently made people sick and tired of discrimination and socio-economic inequalities," she added.

The EU still lacks legislation on discrimination outside of the workplace because the directive on equal treatment has been blocked in the EU council since 2008.

"An extremely important step would be to unblock this directive in the council and get it adopted after a deadlock of more than ten years," said Kuhnke, who expects the upcoming EU's presidency under Germany to take the lead in this process.

Additionally, socialist MEPs called on the European Commission to develop an EU framework for national strategies to combat racism following the parliament's resolution on the fundamental rights of people of African descent.

"Hate speech and racism have no place anywhere - neither in Europe nor the United States," said socialist MEP Kati Piri.

'Being Black in the EU'

Meanwhile, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights called on members states "to build on the current momentum and make greater efforts to eradicate racism once and for all".

"There is no space for racism and racial discrimination in the 21st century and we need to work together to eradicate racist practices once and for all in Europe," said his director Michael O'Flaherty last week.

The "Being Black in the EU" report revealed in 2018 that almost one-third of black Europeans had experienced racist harassment and violence, including at the hands of police.

Human-rights NGO Amnesty International revealed in 2018 that Belgian police use racial profiling during identity checks.

The ENAR also called on EU countries to ensure fair and effective policing practices for all communities, including prohibiting racial profiling, ensuring independent investigations and severe sanctions in cases of police violence.

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