Racial profiling is a common practice in Spain, as this Cameroonian man can testify, he was stopped and arrested for more than 160 times! I had a friend that used to be pulled over almost every single month, taken to the police station, only to be released soon after. This is a practice that have penalized people of non Caucasian appearance in Spain, from the African American lady (Rosalind Williams)who first took this practice to higher courts. It is currently a trending topic once again, because of the case of stop, search and police abuse against a Pakistani citizen living in Barcelona.
As you can see, this has a been a widely spread practice, approved explicitely by Spanish authorities, even though the United Nations and other Human Rights organisations have publicly urged them to stop using skin color as a presumption of illegal immigration status or crimes.
My particular case. As you all know I am a black African raised in Spain who feels at home here because of time, cultural and emotional bonds. Personally I had so far been pulled over 3 times in the last 16 years. All of them, in my home city, where everybody knows me, except, apparently, the police officers who never appear in their uniforms but as civil citizens.
The first time, I was about to travel, in the coach station and carrying a big bag of belongings to my student flat for the new academic year. Well, I did not take it personally since so many things may have seem ‘suspicious’.
The second time, I running towards a bank office to pay some university taxes, and in the middle of the race, I saw a Brazilian friend talking with other two guys. She is mixed-race and was accompanied by a black African guy I barely knew. For my suprised, the third person turned out to be a police officer who stopped me to ask for my ID. Well, you judge.
The third time, I was going to give some private lessons to a high school student and was also in a hurry. All of the sudden, a man blocked my way and showed his badge and asked for my ID. I gave it to him while telling him I was in a hurry to work. He was brief and courtious.
All these three stops happened at the same area, the Stations Plaza (bus and train). They were brief and educated.
But this very summer, comming back from the US embassy in Madrid on my way home, inside a coach full of people, we stopped to pick some people at the airport and to me suprised only two people got in the bus. I was in the last row, reading a book and not paying real attention. I noticed a young man coming towards me, so I moved to my right to let him take a seat. ( How naive). But that would be…
the fourth time Police would searched me. He came straight to me as asked for my ID. I couldn’t believe it! Why me out of all those passengers? Everyone was paying attention to me, of course. I shaked my head while I was opening my wallet. I was tired. Once again. He said in a conciliatory tone: Don’t be mad, man. I said nothing. I just felt humiliated for no reason. Then I noticed another one was also doing the same to a man who seemed to have a Latin America accent. After that this second me came to take to ID card, and call to they headquarted ( I suppose) and verify the name of the person, loud voice. Not only did he do that, but he also look above my head and asked if the bag over there was mine. I nodded. He demanded me to open it and search it. At this moment I was feeling totally harassed. Why out of all the personal bags over there, he thought only mine would have something wrong? After this unfortunate scene, they turned back and left.
NOW. Some people may justify this for security reasons, especially at places like airports and bus stations. Also, I am aware that terrorist attacks have been happening recently in Europe. But, let me remind you of something. There is something call presumption of innocence. You cannot presume that because someone is of a different ethnic group, he is a criminal or whatsoever, without other criteria. Racial profiling is a clearly discriminatory act that make people feel unfairly targeting and harassed by the police. Remember that police is there to protect, not the abuse minorities. It is very easy, lazy, and ineffective, to stop and searched all those who don`t look ‘Spaniards’ or Caucasian. And, in my opinion, it only creates feelings of untrust, distruct and resentment from those who feel harassed. So far I have no especially bad opinion of police officers, because I have been lucky until now. Or also because I understand their job, and humanise then, since some of my friends and classmates are now part of that body. And I understand that orders come from above, as it has been proven. However, this persistent pervasive practive does not do us any favor as a society which is increasingly multiethnical.
Being dark-skinned is not a crime. If it were so, some 3 million people in Spain would criminals. This is the number of people from non-EU countries that live legally in Spain nor those almost two millions who have acquired Spanish citizenship. Amongst these people you can find basically Colombians, Ecuadorians and Marrocans, who make more than the half. Rest of countries, including China, Senegal, Peru or Pakistan make the rest.
Is it fair to target everyone who looks non-white, when statistically most of them live here legally? How many hundreds of thousands live ilegally in Spain? Should we be harassed for them? Isn’t it there a more effective way to do this? Without harassing part of the population? I have spent a year in England and in the US, and was never stopped by the police to demand my ID. And, be certain that they have my travel history and my biomorphical information. Security is important and respectable. But legitimaticy and perceived non-discrimination is even more important. I wonder how do they expect us to collaborate with this national task if they treat us this way? Really?
And finally, just when I had just forgotten the bad experience, on my way back to the US, it happened again. For the second time, in the same airport, and by the same officer, I was “randomly checked” again at the Frankfurt International Airport. I was not surprised. This time it took more than the last time. And I was taken together with a US guy of Latin American origin. We sat close to each other. After body check by the machine, they my hand baggage and took EVERYTHING OUT, every single book and pen, and my computer. Well, I guess this is the world we live in. Some of us have to endure this for others to feel safe? Didn’t they see me already in their computer? Or the previous visa in my passport? couldn’t they check my empty criminal record from the Spanish system? Why me in the whole waiting area?
And yes. I know that this shit happens everywhere, even in the US, tough I heard it is ilegal. I have also heard of similar things in certain African countries, although not against Caucasian in particular. I just want to be treated with respect, since I am a low abiding person. Discrimination only fuels hatred and resentment. They should know best.