Over-policing of Ethiopian-Israeli community down, suspicion of racism persists

It is this over-policing that has caused so much concern among the community.

July 1, 2019 22:34
4 minute read.
Over-policing of Ethiopian-Israeli community down, suspicion of racism persists

The annual memorial ceremony for Jewish immigrants who died on the way to Israel from Ethiopia, June 5, 2016. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The slaying of Solomon Tekah on Sunday night has once again generated fierce condemnation from the Ethiopian-Israeli community and civil rights activists toward the police for brutality and excessive force.

The tragic incident follows the police killing of Yehuda Biadga in January this year and other prominent cases, such as the police beating of Damas Pakada in 2015, which sparked national protests, and the tasering of Yosef Salamsa in 2014, after which he subsequently committed suicide.

But beyond these high-profile cases lie broader accusations of institutional racism by the police against the Ethiopian-Israeli community, among other minorities.

In 2016, the Palmor Committee published its report into prejudice and discrimination against the Israeli-Ethiopian community following the 2015 protests, and did indeed find that the police disproportionately targeted Israeli-Ethiopians, with far higher levels of arrests, indictments and incarceration than other population sectors relative to the size of the population.

It is this over-policing that has caused so much concern among the community.

Michal Avera Samuel, director of the Fidel NGO that provides assistance to the Ethiopian community, said that despite some improvements, police personnel still hold prejudices against the Ethiopian-Israelis based on their skin color.

Worse, she said, is what she describes as the police’s attempt to portray the community as violent in its defense of its personnel, which she described as “character assassination of the Ethiopian-Israeli community.”

Critically, said Avera Samuel, none of the police personnel involved in the high-profile incidents of excessive police force against members of the community have been taken to task for their actions.

“No police personnel have been punished for these incidents, but instead the police has given backing to them and no one is defending the Ethiopian community or supporting it,” she said.

Despite the clear and ongoing problems, there has been an improvement in the interaction of the police with the Ethiopian community.

Figures published earlier this year by the Government Unit for the Coordination of the Struggle Against Racism, set up by the Palmor Committee, showed that from 2015 to 2018 there were large decreases in the number of police arrests of Ethiopian minors and adults.

These figures showed decreases in so-called “contact offenses,” where individuals are arrested only after a policeman initiates an encounter with an individual, such as requesting identification documents or conducting random searches.

According to the March 2019 report, arrests of Ethiopian-Israeli minors declined by 50%, arrests for contact offenses declined by 31% and indictments declined by 8%.

For adults from the sector, there was a decline of 15% in general arrests and 2.7% in arrests for “contact offenses.”

Nevertheless, arrests of Ethiopian-Israeli minors are still disproportionate to the relative size of the community among the general population.

The report found that arrests of Ethiopian-Israeli minors constitute 5.4% of all minors arrested, despite Ethiopian-Israelis constituting just 1.7% of the population.

Similarly, in 2018, arrests of Ethiopian-Israeli minors for contact offenses constituted 7% of all such arrests; indictments of Ethiopian-Israeli minors constituted 8.7% of such indictments; 2.7% of all adults arrested were Ethiopian-Israeli adults; 4.6% of all adults arrested for contact offenses were Ethiopian-Israeli; and 3.3% of all adults indicted were Ethiopian-Israeli.

In all of these categories, Ethiopian-Israelis are over-represented in relation to their population size.

Although these statistics do not of themselves demonstrate police racism, the fact that they were so high before the Palmor Committee recommendation were implemented, and the evidence of the ongoing over-representation of Ethiopian-Israelis in police arrests, indicate ongoing prejudice by the police against the sector, says attorney Anna Suciu of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

“There is a very violent attitude of the police toward minority groups, and the quick use of force against them,” she said. “We saw this clearly against Ethiopians in the 2015 protests as well as other incidents, and incidents against Arabs, and also the ultra-Orthodox. We see Ethiopians and Arabs shot to death, and we don’t see this among other groups.”

Suciu also pointed to the failure to discipline those police personnel responsible for the most egregious incidents as a key reason for the ongoing phenomenon.

“We see again and again police officers doing awful things, and the Police Department for Investigating Policemen just closes the file,” she said. “A policeman who knows this is the situation does not have the requisite concern when using force that someone who has a gun needs to have.”

She said that “weak communities with low socioeconomic conditions, such as minorities, are more involved in crime than other populations,” but added that this is often a function of preconceived police attitudes toward them, and the profiling of minorities, which has led for example to higher friction between the police and these minorities.

“There is profiling against Ethiopians and Arabs and the Mizrahi community, and this friction with the police often creates criminal violations which would otherwise not happen,” she said.

The watershed moment of the 2015 protests and the subsequent Palmor Committee recommendations have led to noticeable improvements in the way the police interact with the Ethiopian-Israeli community, with the over-policing previously witnessed on the wane.

Regardless of the outcome of the latest incident’s investigation, there is still much work to be done to eradicate this phenomenon.

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