While heading to the car after an afternoon of shopping with his family in a London suburb, Paul Mortimer was slammed against a wall and restrained as his children looked on, all because someone felt he looked “shifty” when signing his credit card receipt at the store.
In terms of racial profiling, Mortimer’s ridiculous encounter is but a drop in the global tide of racist police practices that are unnecessarily ensnaring a record number of Blacks and other ethnic minorities in criminal justice systems and bolstering a legacy of distrust and oppression.
New York City’s racist stop-and-frisk policy allows police to stop and search anyone as long as they can base the stop on a “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity. But its U.K. cousin has the potential to be a far more effective vehicle for oppression as it clears the way for police to stop and search any pedestrians or vehicles for offensive weapons or dangerous instruments within a specified area and during a specified period of time. No suspicious behavior needed.
According to a recent report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, from 2005 to 2011 the U.K.’s use of stop-and-search rose 300 percent while stops of Black people specifically rose by more than 650 percent.
Like the New York policy, only a small fraction of the U.K. searches resulted in arrests — less than one in 10.
Unfortunately, France is even further behind both the U.S. and the U.K. in terms of establishing accountability for street stops.
Although the government recently announced it plans to begin recording racial data in its arrest records, the French custom has been to refrain from collecting any statistics on ethnicity that can show unequal treatment.
Independent data collected by the Soros Foundation shows Black French are between 3.3 and 11.5 times more likely than whites to be stopped and Arabs are between 1.8 and 14.8 more likely to be stopped than their white counterparts.
For the 15 French men who have filed suit against the country for racial profiling, Brooklyn teen Tyquan Brehon’s recent disclosure that he was stopped by police more than 60 times before reaching the age of 18 makes New York sound like paradise compared to the daily police stops the French men say they have been forced to endure.
Even the French popular expressions for the frequent street stops of Black and Arab people are rawer. They call it contrôle au faciès (appearance control) or delit de sale gueule (the crime of having an ugly face).
For all their faults, at least the French are honest. Rather than use deceptive language like "crime reduction," "appearance control" gets right to the heart of what these street stop policies are doing: controlling the freedom of those who aren't white enough to be trusted.
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(Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)