From Iceland — Police Accused Of Racial Profiling In Search For Fugitive

Police Accused Of Racial Profiling In Search For Fugitive

Published April 21, 2022

Photo by
Art Bicnick

The Reykjavík area police have been strongly criticised for deploying their special forces squad to stop a bus suspected to be transporting a wanted man. The National Commissioner of the Police has since issued a statement expressing regret for the treatment an innocent man was subjected to, saying that prejudice is wrong.

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Police have been searching for Gabríel Douane Boama, who is facing charges for a robbery at Kjarvalsstaðir last summer, since he managed to slip out of police custody from Reykjavík District Court last Tuesday. Although the suspect in question is born in Iceland, the case has prompted many xenophobic comments on social media, a great many of them also racist. Some of these comments have been so severe that the police themselves say they have had to delete Facebook comments on their own posts about the case.

Things came to a head yesterday, Fréttablaðið reports, when a tip to the police was called in saying that Gabríel was riding a city bus. The special forces were deployed, who stopped the bus and boarded. While it was initially reported that special forces had removed a 16-year-old boy from the bus, Fréttablaðið corrected the story to say that the boy in question left on his own accord because he was understandably shaken by the event, and did not feel safe being on the bus anymore. His friends reportedly called him a cab and accompanied him home.

Police methods “utterly broken”

As the boy in question is, like Gabríel, also a person of colour, the police have been criticised for their handling of the matter.

Amongst those who have raised the issue is musician Logi Pedro Stefánsson, who posted on Facebook about the matter yesterday.

“The methods that the police are using to call attention to a wanted individual on social media and in the news are utterly broken,” he writes in part. “It is obvious that this can put many Icelanders of foreign background in dangerous situations. This is a ridiculous incident and calls for clear changes in work methods, an apology from the police, and a response from the highest levels of power in the nation.”

Sema Erla Serdar, the chair of the refugee rights group Solaris and long an activist against xenophobia in Iceland, was of much the same mind, taking to Twitter to say that the mother of the boy who was “racially profiled has called for a public apology for the racism and violence the police subjected him to. We on social media support that demand.”

The police respond

The National Commissioner of the Police issued a statement last evening. While not apologising exactly, they did express regret for the incident, but placed the blame on the person who called in the tip.

“The National Commissioner of the Police regrets that a boy was today a part of police operations but a tip was called in that he was the person who was wanted,” the statement reads in part. “The boy himself has done nothing wrong.”

The police furthermore urged caution in how the general public handles the case.

“The [police] encourage caution in communications about this case and other cases that concerns minority groups,” they say. “Prejudice is never right. A search for dangerous people should not lead to minorities in our society made to feel unsafe or in fear of their public travels being reported to the police baselessly.”

Then they did it again

Despite these assurances, the mother of the aforementioned 16-year-old boy reported on Facebook that the police once again confronted the boy, this time in her presence.

The incident reportedly took place at a bakery this morning. The mother says that while the two were in the bakery, the police showed up in response to a tip, and had a confrontation with him.

“This is not just a police problem; this is a social problem,” the mother posted.

Pirate Party MP Lenya Rún Taha Karim was amongst those who criticised the police for this, tweeting: “The same boy who was taken from the bus yesterday was just now taken AGAIN in a bakery. Where he was with his mother. This is not alright. We need to institute a committee with supervision of the police again, and the police must be investigated.”

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