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5th Jul 2020

Black MEP: 'I have been a victim of police violence'

  • MEPs stood in silence for one minute on Wednesday in memory of murdered African-American George Floyd (Photo: European Parliament)

"I have been a victim of police violence," black MEP Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana said on Wednesday (17 June), opening a debate of about racism in the European Parliament.

"I feel that this is a discriminatory act underlying racists tendencies," she added, after telling MEPs that she was harassed and intimidated by Belgian police after she took pictures of police arresting two black teenagers at Gare du Nord in Brussels.

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  • MEPs Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana told MEPs she has been a victim of police violence (Photo: European Parliament)

Herzberger-Fofana filed a complaint saying that armed police pushed her against the wall and used physical force to make her stand with her legs open in what she described as very "humiliating". Police did not believe she was an MEP.

In 2018, a report revealed that almost one-third of black Europeans had experienced racist harassment and violence, including at the hands of police.

Racism and discrimination in Europe occur in the justice system, law enforcement, labour market, the housing market, education, health care or politics.

Yet, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, admitted on Wednesday that the majority of those participating in the parliamentarian debate have never experienced a situation like MEP Herzberger-Fofana.

"I am glad to live in a society that condemns racism, but we need to do more," von der Leyen said, referring to the protests that have been taking place across Europe following US police brutal killing of 46-year-old African American George Floyd.

"We have to take this opportunity to talk about racism openly and frankly: Why do racism and discrimination endure in our society? Why are there political parties supporting xenophobia and racism that win elections?," she told MEPs.

"In our [European] Union, there is no place for any kind of racism or discrimination," the commission's first female president stressed, calling for self-examination of Europe's reality, including questioning privileges that might be taken for granted.

Meanwhile, some MEPs from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and Greens/EFA explicitly urged the commissioner for equality, Helena Dalli, to push member states to unblock the equal treatment directive that has been stuck in the European Council since 2018.

EU commissioner for values and transparency, Vera Jourová, said it was "a shame" that this directive remains blocked by some member states, while stressing that "legislation cannot do the whole job".

15 states

While racism and discrimination are considered as a pan-European issue, only 15 member states have in place specific strategies to tackle racism.

"It is unacceptable that since 2008 the directive anti-discrimination is blocked in the European Council," said the head of the socialist group, Iraxte García, who claimed that such legislative instruments would be key to putting an end to racism in Europe.

However, MEP Alice Kuhnke from the Greens warned that adopting the anti-discrimination directive is only "the first step," stressing the crucial role that history and education play in this issue.

"Colonialism has defined American and European societies for centuries, it has created deep and rooted prejudices and inequalities that still prevail and de facto kill people," she said.

EPP lagging

MEP Isabel Wiseler-Santos Lima from the European People's Party (EPP) stressed the importance of talking with "one voice" against racism in the US and Europe.

This is why the European Parliament will officially vote on Friday (19 June) on a resolution that calls for political recognition and acknowledgement of the structural nature of racism in Europe and for the first time also refers to the US.

"This [European] Parliament asks to not only speak out loud but also to act so that skin colour is no longer of importance in our society," said the vice-president of the Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI) Bureau MEP Hilde Vautmans.

Fellow ADRI MEP Evin Incir said it was crucial to understand "systemic racism does not only mean that there are racists in the system - it means that the system in itself is biased".

"To fight racism we need to not only change attitudes but also honestly look at our society and dare to challenge power," she said.

Most political parties - namely the S&D, Renew Europe, GUE/NGL and the Greens/EFA - have already signed the draft resolution.

The EPP left the negotiations at the very last minute, but then decided to co-sign the resolution again.

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Black MEP: 'I have been a victim of police violence'

MEPs urged an end to structural racism and discrimination in Europe and the US, following the brutal killing of black American George Floyd by US police. Socialists and Green MEPs stressed the need to unblock the anti-discrimination directive.

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