Police accused of racial profiling in Birzebbuġa
Man says he was simply targeted because of skin colour
A man asked for identification by police officers at Birżebbuġa has claimed that he was targeted simply because of his skin colour.
In a Facebook post, the man, a businessman, described how three officers approached him on Pretty Bayon on Tuesday. When he asked them why he was being targeted, police allegedly replied "“No, no, we are asking all the foreigners”.
According to the man, however, police did not approach any of the white foreigners at the beach at the time.
The man subsequently described the "humiliation" in a Facebook post.
“Isn’t this a textbook definition of racial profiling? I don’t even live here. I’m working and I have just arrived with the client," he wrote.
"For how long do we have to go through a public humiliation in this country? Some of us have built families, who happen to be Maltese, here."
Racial profiling is a complex legal definition which is acknowledged globally and with contextual interpretations. The American Civil Liberties Union says racial profiling "occurs when law enforcement and private security target people of colour for humiliating and often frightening detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of criminal activity and based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion."
Integra Foundation director and University of Malta lecturer Maria Pisani flagged the post online and said racial profiling was a reality in Malta.
“Let’s not beat around the bush. Racial profiling is happening in Malta, it’s discriminatory, illegal, and a violation of basic human rights," she told Times of Malta.
Dr Pisani accused police of violating their basic duty to "protect the rights of all members of Maltese society and to promote justice," and said there was an urgent need to address the situation.
Lawyer Joe Giglio was more guarded in his comments.
He noted that he could not comment on the facts of the case since he did not know them, but argued that "police have the right to check documents of people and they have likely made an assessment before doing so".
Jesuit Refugee Service director Katrine Camilleri said that reports of police stopping and searching migrants have been more frequent lately.
“I don’t know of this particular incident, but all I can say is that we have received reports of how people have been asked to show their identification documents over the recent," Dr Camilleri said.
"Nobody has complained, but they just noted that they were being asked, and that it was probably because they were black or ‘looked foreign’."
Profiling doesn't work, detractors say
Police have made their presence felt in Marsa over the past months, conducting a high-profile raid on a bar frequented by migrants last July, and returning to search more migrants there earlier this month.
The raids come as mayors of both Marsa and Ħamrun have called on authorities to crack down on "lawlessness" in the towns.
Dr Camilleri told Times of Malta that police operations such as this did not solve anything.
"The root of similar social issues lies elsewhere, and this way of trying to solve the problem on its own its not enough," she argued.
Dr Pisani was on the same page.
"All it serves to do is generate a false sense of security among elements of Maltese society, while serving to marginalise and exclude other members of Maltese society, specifically ethnic minorities," she said. This is a lose-lose situation that benefits nobody."
Police were asked to comment about the racial profiling claims but did not reply at the time of writing.