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US Protests Cause Soul-Searching in Europe 

People take part in a Black Lives Matter protest in front of the Royal Palace on Dam Square in Amsterdam, Netherlands, June 1, 2020, to protest against the recent killing of George Floyd.

Europeans have been taking to the streets in solidarity with those protesting the issue of violence by police against black people in the United States. Like the U.S., European nations have had cases of minorities dying at the hands of white police officers, but those have rarely resulted in mass demonstrations. That could be changing.

About 5,000 demonstrators came together in Amsterdam this week, in solidarity with the demonstrations following the death of George Floyd. The crowd was diverse, and many people were holding signs with slogans such as “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe.”

Joukje Boder is a demonstrator who has taken part in anti-racism protests in Amsterdam before. Boder, who is white, says it is important for everyone to participate in these kinds of protests to combat racism in societies everywhere.

“The problem with European racism is that it’s more invisible and more institutionalized than in America where maybe it’s more explicit. In Europe it’s more subtle in small ways, so I think it’s harder to make people aware that it’s as big of a problem in Europe as it is in America,” said Boder.

More demonstrations are planned in the Netherlands and in many other European cities in coming days. A protest that was to happen in Paris Tuesday evening was banned but tens of thousands of people still took to the streets.

The French protest was also in memory of Adama Traore, a young black Frenchman who died in police custody in 2016. The officers involved in Traore’s death were recently exonerated as initial medical reports had stated he died of heart failure — a claim contested by two other medical investigations.

Karen Taylor, chair of the Brussels-based European Network Against Racism, ENAR, says discussing the topic of racism in Europe is difficult, but she sees the U.S. protests as having a positive effect on her efforts.

“We see that people are trying to build the link between what is happening in the U.S. and to shed light on what is happening here in Europe. And I think that's exactly where white allies can join in the fight and of course, whenever they post something in solidarity with what is happening in the US to remind people about what has happened going on in Europe, and that it's not all about the U.S. context." she said.

Incidents in the United States grab the headlines when it comes to issues of racial inequality and police violence against minorities, but it is clear Europe has its own problems.

Protests erupted in Britain in 2011 after police shot Mark Duggan a 29-year-old, British-born man of African-Caribbean descent, but a police investigation ruled the killing by police was lawful, and a high court agreed with the rationale the officer acted in self-defense.

Protesters in London this week held up signs with the names of many other black British people who died in police incidents.

A Dutch monitoring group on racial profiling, Controle-Alt-Delete, says 41 people died when in contact with Dutch police since 2016, and that not one officer was called into court. The French collective Urgence Notre Police Assassine states that of the 103 people killed by police between 2005 and 2015, 95 percent were black or of Arab descent.

Both ENAR and Amnesty International say many European countries lack independent oversight mechanisms to investigate allegations of police brutality.

Amnesty’s Marco Perolini says Europe has serious human rights issues when it comes to racial discrimination and policing.

“One of them is racial profiling. So the fact that ethnic minorities are stopped and searched by the police more often than white people, this is a human rights issue at the regional level in Europe and in all European countries. A second one is the fact that there are still a lot of instances where police use force unlawfully. And then the third issues, that is particularly problematic, we have noticed a lack of accountability for allegations of excessive use of force and unlawful use of force by police,” said Perolini.

An upcoming report from Amnesty International looks at how police disproportionally targeted ethnic communities in 12 European countries during the coronavirus lockdown.

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