The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

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Daniel Haile-Michael and Maki Issa have co-authored a report about racially discriminative policing. Image: Herald Sun

Young African men in the Melbourne suburbs have revealed that they experience regular taunting and are subject to racial profiling by Victorian Police. These behaviours have included verbal taunting, assaults, racial taunts and public ridicule, according to a new report.

The report, released by the Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre today, called for an independent body to handle complaints about policing, to ensure officers were made more accountable for their actions.

In the report, one man has spoken of an incident where he was thrown to the ground so hard that his teeth were knocked out after reaching into his pocket to produce a health care card to show ID.

The report found the police encounters were mainly in public spaces while the young men were doing everyday activities such as catching public transport or walking.

Police were described as being threatening in nature and holding “underlying assumptions of guilt,” subjecting people to unnecessary searches or questioning.

The report titled The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same by author Daniel Haile-Michael interviewed and recorded 10 young men over a three-month period and uncovered repeated acts of racial discrimination by police and public service officers.

Daniel Haile-Michael said many young people were reluctant to report their experiences to anyone because they did not feel their concerns would be taken seriously.

“They feel that the odds of the police being reprimanded are very low and fear that they will be further targeted if they complain,” Mr Haile-Michael said.

Despite the claims, Victoria Police have denied using racial profiling, saying that they have a zero-tolerance approach to it.

Mr Haile-Michael and co-author Maki Issa noted that their report is limited in scope, but hope to use it as a stepping stone to further research into the practice of racial profiling in Australia and assess the impacts on people, communities and society as a whole.

It was also observed that while African-Australians were the subject of this report, it was an issue also faced by Aboriginal people and a number of refugee and migrant communities.

“This is a systematic issue that needs to be addressed at a higher level with cross-cultural training for police,” Mr Haile-Michael said.

He also said community workers, often the first point of contact for young people, needed more training about racial profiling and what the victim’s legal options were.

The report stated: “Young people routinely disclosed stories of racialized policing to the community workers they trusted. Almost universally those workers were not equipped, mandated or skilled enough to do anything about those disclosures”.

In 2013, Mr Haile-Michael and Mr Issa were lead applicants in the Federal Court Race Discrimination case which resulted in commitments by Victoria Police to change its practices and policing of diverse communities.

Acting Deputy Commissioner Jack Blayney said Victoria Police did not believe there was a problem with racialized policing,

“Victoria Police has completed significant work to ensure we do not racially profile in any form. We have made significant improvements to our culture, policies, training and education since 2013,” he said.

“We believe the progress we have made will ensure a strong foundation for the future.”

He said Victoria Police had enhanced its training and education in ethical decision-making, professional policing, community engagement and cultural awareness.

Deputy Commissioner Blayney urged people who had concerns about the actions of police officers to make a formal complaint to the Police Conduct Unit 1300 363 101 or via the Compliments and Complaints page on the Victoria Police website police.vic.gov.au

While the report was based on a very small sample scale, do you still believe these claims of racial profiling and discrimination toward ethnic minority groups by police? What more should be done on this matter?

Give us a comment!

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same report will be officially released this evening at 5pm at the Rainbow Room, Multicultural Hub, 506 Elizabeth St, Melbourne.

For more information on the report and tonight’s event, click here.

 

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