4 Mar 2016

Police reject Africans' claims of racial abuse

4:39 pm on 4 March 2016

Police are rejecting claims from young Africans living in New Zealand who say they have been racially profiled, harassed and beaten by officers.


Marvin said he was stopped by police on a regular basis. Photo: RNZ / Mohamed Hassan

Police say the claims are based on unsubstantiated information by anonymous people.

The complaints have been detailed in a study by AUT, featuring interviews with Africans aged from 16 to 31.

Many of those interviewed felt unfairly treated and others said they had been racially profiled, harrassed or beaten by officers.

The first part of the study involved an online survey answered by 84 people, all African. One third said they had been stopped by police before.

Police said the findings were based on an online survey tool involving a small number of individuals - some of whom were known to the police - and they did not agree with the findings.

Police deputy chief executive of Maori, Pacific and ethnic services, Wally Haumaha, said people should make a complaint if they have been abused by police.

He questioned the quality of the research and said he would like to see the researcher front up with the evidence.

Mr Haumaha said he would be gobsmacked if police used some of the language they were accused of.

"If it is happening come to us and lay the complaint so we can identify the source of those incidents, and we would like to know ourselves."

Young Africans speak of abuse

Somalian-born Vegeta, as he is known by his friends, has lived in the Auckland suburb of Mount Roskill since the age of seven.

He recalled a recent incident when he was driving in his neighbourhood with several of his African friends.

"As soon as the police drove past us, he took a glance at us, and as soon as he saw us, boom, u-turn."

The police officer followed them for a while before pulling them over and asked to see their identification.

"We asked him, you know, out of curiosity, why he pulled us over. He ignored us.

"My friend asked him again why he pulled us over, and he said 'get out of the car you monkey'."

Vegeta said because of his skin colour, he had been stopped by police almost on a daily basis.

"Even at parks, when we're playing basketball, you see a bunch of black people, and then you see the cops roaming around. They'll come, walk around, ask random questions and pull people out, ask them for their ID."

'You know they're gonna make a u-turn for you'

Marvin, a masters student, came to Auckland from Kenya when he was 14 to stay with his father.

He said his experience with police had been similar.

"We'll just get stopped on the regular, you know, it became like a habit."

"You walk around, you see police, and you know they're gonna make a u-turn for you."

He said everyone in the African community had a story about being racially profiled by police.

"We all had experiences, so it became something we all had in common."

He said after a while it became clear they were stopped only because of how they looked.

"Even though you're born here in New Zealand, you'll never be a Kiwi in the eyes of New Zealand, because we don't look like Kiwis."

The report also involved a series of focus groups interviewing 30 Africans between the ages of 16 and 31 about their experiences.

One participant said he was left to bleed in a police cell overnight after he lost his teeth in a scuffle with a security guard.

When he complained and asked for medical care he says he was laughed at, then taken to a corner and punched and kneed by one of the police officers.

Another said he tried to ask an officer for help after his car broke down, only to be "shoved and handcuffed" and his shoulder bruised because the officer suspected the car might be stolen.

Others describe being arrested with Pakeha peers, who were driven home to their parents by police, while they had to spend the night in custody and ended up with a criminal record.

In other occasions, interviewees described police being suspicious if they were travelling in the company of Pakeha females.

"If they see you as a black man with a white woman in the car ... they would come and make sure the girls [are safe]," said one respondent. "Or they pull the girls aside and ask 'are you ok?'."

The report said those who ended up in court often did not understand their rights and were convinced to take plea bargains on charges they had not done. Some respondents said they did not understand the long-term effect admitting to the offences and the consequent criminal record would have on their life and their chances of employment.

Police dispute allegations

Police did not agree with the findings which they said were based on an online survey tool involving a small number of individuals, some of whom were known to the police.

Police had earlier said records showed Africans were underrepresented in arrests in proportion to their number, and disputed the study's categorisation of 16-31 year olds as youth, saying the police's definition meant 14-16 year olds.

In statement, police said they they had a strong involvement with the African community, speaking at events, hosting career fairs and setting up a community patrol programme which includes Africans.

'Police culture that needs to stop'

Report author Dr Camille Nakhid said despite being active in the African community she had no idea the results would be so bad.

"I myself did not know the extent and depth to which this was happening, and 30 youth that I have spoken to could not be wrong, each of them telling me the same thing, in different settings, in different groups."

She said the problem did not lie with just one or two "rogue officers".

"This is a cultural behaviour, a police culture that needs to stop, because it is damaging when youth are feeling that they do not belong."

Makanaka Tuwe

African Youth Forum organiser Makanaka Tuwe Photo: RNZ / Mohamed Hassan

Dr Nakhid said police statistics did not take into account the experiences of those not taken into custody.

"It needs to be noted that police do not record how often they have stopped, spoken to, insulted or abused African youth or anyone for that matter."

She said that when meeting with police herself, she had been told police were aware of a lot of the concerns raised in the report.

The report will be launched tomorrow at an African Youth Forum held at the Wesley Centre in Mount Roskill.

An organiser for the forum, Makanaka Tuwe, said she had never faced racial profiling from police herself but the "daunting" experiences of her brother and ex-partner had had an effect.

"Even though I know I've never done anything that can be seen as criminal...because I know those things and how they impact our people, if I see the police, honestly I'm actually very scared."

She hoped this event, spearheaded by young people, was not seen as an "attack on police" but an opportunity to spark a dialogue within the community.

A police representative from will be attending the panel discussion at the event.