segunda-feira, 24 de abril de 2017

Being black is enough for the police to stop me


I came from London to Cova da Moura* four days ago. I was in England for a few weeks and that was enough to start feeling like a normal citizen. I have lived some time in London before and there are problems too, but there is a difference between England and Portugal. There I feel like a character in a movie, like any normal person, here in the country where I was born and which I'm citizen of, they always give me the role of a villain.

This time around I took long to leave the house. Today was my first real contact with the streets and straigt up I encounter the police. Every time I return home they always remind me what is my place in this society, that of the villain, the suspect simply because I'm black.

I went for a walk in the early sunny morning with my dog. I noticed a Volkswagen leaving my neighbourhood, the three people inside it staring at me. I thought that it could be the police. It’s like around here the police doesn't like to be looked at. Already on the other side of the road, I saw the same car turning into the car park next to the petrol station where I was. They all came out of the car with some urgency. I am familiar with this type of behaviour and any of us that grew up with this knows what comes next.

By my experience I knew they were police officers even though they were undercover. They didn't identify themselves or even say that they were police. They asked me for my documents. I said that I didn’t have my ID with me. I had come out with light clothes with the only intention of letting the dog for a 10 minute sniff and go back home. They said that I should have known that I should carry my documents at all times. I answered yes but suggested that we could go get my documents at my house which is 50 meters from where we were. I even explained that there was this occasion where I was stopped by the police officers in the same spot also with my dog and from there we went to my house so that I could identify myself and show the dog’s document as per their request.

While I was trying to talk with the police officers some memories from past traumas started to emerge. These are memories of racist police violence that I have suffered during my 37 years of life, especially a serious case that happened more than 20 years ago and is still very alive in me. It has always happened in the form of a stop and search or random identification check. There was never other reason if not that of being black. With me it has happened dozens of times but my criminal record is clear.

The threat of violence was present, and I started losing my line of thinking when I realised that the police officer that was talking with me didn't stop adjusting his gloves. That made me forget to ask for their names.

I felt the need to protect myself so I showed them the cuts that I had because of an operation that I had three days ago: two 10 centimetre wounds on my belly, stitched  and stapled. From there on their reaction started to change, the officer took off the gloves e got closer like with the intention of lifting my shirt to have a better look. I stopped him telling him that he could not touch me. They wanted to know more about the wounds. In their eyes, now I was a fragile villain.

I felt less frightened by then so I asked what was the reason for them to stop me and why they didn’t identify themselves. Up to this point they hadn’t identified themselves. Then one of them asked me my name. I said my name and then I asked his. He gave me his surname but yet they never showed me their badges.

It seems it was an offence for the officer when I answered him with a question and without a real reason to stop me they tried to justify it with the identification check issue. But they also didn't accept my suggestion of going to get it. "It’s not you who tells us what we should do”, one said. They left with out identifying me; according to them it was after all optional.
I didn’t find out whether there was any other, real reason for them to stop me except the colour of my skin. I was glad they didn't take me to the police station but the fact is that they didn't identify me either (no full name, no date of birth, no address, no legal status were requested). That shows that it was a pure case of abuse of power, discrimination and racial profiling.


*Cova da Moura is a neighbourhood in the outskirts of Lisbon. It is populated by around 6000 people who have their roots in the ex-colonies of Portugal, principally Cape Verde islands.

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