Gabríel Douane Boama, a fugitive who slipped out of police custody at Reykjavík District Court last Tuesday and has been on the run since, was found and arrested last night, RÚV reports. Five others were also arrested in connection with the case.
The case itself has sparked criticism of the police as engaging in racial profiling, but it has also served as a broader criticism of racism in Iceland as a whole.
Innocent boy stopped twice by police in 24 hour period
As reported, while the fugitive was still wanted, police responded to a tip on Wednesday that the suspect was riding a city bus. The special forces were deployed who stopped the bus, boarded, and confronted a 16-year-old boy with no connection to the case. Like Gabríel, he is also a person of colour. The boy was reportedly so shaken by the event that he opted to take a cab home rather than continue his journey by bus.
The next morning, police were told that the fugitive was at a Reykjavík area bakery. Upon arrival, however, this turned out to be the same boy, this time in the company of his mother.
While the National Commissioner for the Police has expressed regrets for both incidents, the police have been accused of racial profiling, due in no small part to the fact that the boy and the fugitive bear little resemblance to one another. Amongst those who have raised objections is musician Logi Pedro Stefánsson, who posted on Facebook that “The methods that the police are using to call attention to a wanted individual on social media and in the news are utterly broken. 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.”
Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir, the National Commissioner of the Police, told RÚV that she considered it “terrible” that an innocent boy should be confronted twice by the police.
She added, however, that the police are responding to tips phoned in by members of the general public, which the police are obliged to respond to.
“This is complicated because we want to get tips from the public and we need to respond to them,” she said. “But at the same time, we need to ensure that young people can be out on the street without baseless interference from the police or special forces.”
The mother of the boy spoke with Kjarninn, in an article which also details a video taken of the confrontation in the bakery. In the video, the mother is understandably upset, saying that she had taken her son to the bakery to help calm him down after the incident on the bus the day before. While one of the officers said that upon seeing that the boy was not the fugitive, they would be leaving, the mother asked the officer why they did not just send a plain-clothes detective first to confirm the tip. The officer responded by saying there were only three officers on shift.
MPs want answers
In her interview with RÚV, Sigríður added that the police will be reviewing their tactics moving forward.
Shortly after the second confrontation the police had with the boy, the Pirate Party announced that MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir Gunnarsdóttir would call upon the Minister of Justice and the police to an open meeting of the Judicial Affairs and Education Committee. There they will likely have the opportunity to examine their tactics, especially in cases concerning minorities in Iceland.
For his part, the boy in question told Kjarninn that he has but one request: “I’d like to be able to set foot outside my own home and be with my friends without being stopped by police because of how I look.”
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