Young Black Portuguese Men Take Police Brutality To Court

In February 2015, six young black Portuguese men were accused of storming a police station after a police operation in Cova da Moura earlier that day. Their case was overturned this year. After hearing the decision of their case, Flavio Almada, Celso Lopes, Rui Moniz, Miguel Reis, Paulo Veiga, and Bruno Lopes decided to pursue the case themselves, testifying as victims of police brutality. According to Al Jazeera, the men claim that instead of storming the police station, they were “taken forcefully into custody, and held for two days without being charged, during which time they were racially abused and physically assaulted.” They claim to have been unfairly targeted by police and wrongfully held. Almada said that in the station, officers exclaimed how “trash belongs on the floor,” referring to Almada and the five other men. Almada also recalls that “someone kicked me in the face, I was bleeding a lot and then my tooth broke. They were kicking and punching me… they seemed to enjoy it.” Moniz told the court that police officers referred to him as “Pretoguese,” preto meaning black and referring to a racial slur.

In an unprecedented case, these six Portuguese men are targeting 17 officers from Portugal’s Public Police Force (PSP). These officers face charges including physical assault, aggravated kidnapping, inhumane treatment, slander and inciting racially motivated discrimination. The case comes at a time in Portugal where violence against minority groups remains unpunished. As such, it has given these Portuguese communities hope of retribution.

The defense lawyer, Goncalo Gaspar, stated in an interview with Al Jazeera that “we’ve never seen so many police officers on trial facing the same charges.” Jose Fernandes, a lawyer of the six alleged victims, said that “no police officers have ever been sentenced for anything like this in Portugal- and the very fact that there has been an accusation at all is something of a victory for us.” Fernandes states that “the kind of policing that these mostly black neighborhoods are subjected to is exceptional.” Having grown up in a “mostly black neighborhood,” Fernandes recalls how the police “often turn up in armored trucks and wearing masks… people are very scared of them.”

Race-based police violence has long been an issue in the country. In an interview with the BBC, Jailza Sousa, a resident of Cova da Moura, a predominantly black town, describes how she saw one of her neighbors get beaten by police until his blood stained the wall behind him. Determined to do something, Sousa roused members of her community and encouraged them to protest. While peacefully protesting, police approached her and shot her twice with rubber bullets. After experiencing first-hand discrimination and violent behavior from the police, Sousa criticized how “they (the police) treat us like animals… It’s a black neighborhood- they treat us like we’re all here to be exterminated.”

In 2009, Domingas Sanches lost her 14-year-old son to police brutality. Her son, Elson, was caught in a stolen car when he was stopped and shot point-blank by a police officer. The officer was tried for manslaughter, which was dismissed after the man defended claimed to have seen a metallic object in Elson’s pocket. Elson’s mother Dominga stated in an interview with BBC that “The only thing I wanted was that justice be done, but it probably won’t be.” These are only a few of the cases of race-based violence going undisciplined in Portugal.

The current case of the six men being upheld in court could be a glimmer of hope for these families that have yet to see justice served. Justice means that the law must be void of prejudice and discrimination. As such, all crime should be pursued equally, including when committed by the police. It is the job of the Portuguese government to acknowledge that racialized violence occurs in law enforcement and fix it. It should not be up to six young black men to bring discrimination to attention after all these years of unjust behavior. Law enforcement should not be feared but respected.

Isabel Slingerland