Racism: A global problem

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Written by: Julia Boersma, Jorge Almeida Favinha and Megan Butthong

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‘Racism’. A negative word that draws the attention of many. Because of treaties like the Declaration of Human Rights and multiple fundamental laws of some countries, you would probably think that nowadays no one dares to be a racist. However, the word ‘racism’ knows a lot of different perspectives of different individuals of different societies in different circumstances. This can be related to culture, ideology, duties and policies. Especially in law enforcement levels, like the police department, you do not want to think about racism. Sadly, multiple incidents occurred over the last years in which people speak of police brutality caused by institutional racism.

This blog will shed the light on police brutality cases that are related to institutional racism in the United States, the Netherlands and Brazil, and pays attention to their similarities and differences. These countries are picked out for this blog, because of  the global reach or personal interests.


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United States of America

Often, when you think of the country with the biggest problem in police brutality against minorities, you would think of the United States. And there is a reason for this. Over the years there have been countless cases of police brutality in the country, some resulting in deaths. The topic is a largely discussed topic nationally, as well as internationally. Even though there are numerous notable cases, here are some cases which had a specifically large impact on the society.

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Breonna Taylor

Breonna Taylor, who was a 26-year-old medical technician, was fatally shot eight times after the police had unrightfully raided her apartment in Louisville on the 13th of March 2020. Breonna’s partner was with her at the time and had fired at the officers in self-defence because he thought they were being burgled.

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Breonna Taylor – Image from: BBC News [5]

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The police had been investigating a drug case in an apartment which was far away from Ms. Taylor’s home. The police believed that her home was used to deliver packages, hence the reason why they entered it. The couple had been in bed at the time when they heard loud banging at the front door. After the police had entered and fired blindly throughout the apartment, they left. Not until 5 minutes later, Breonna’s partner had called 911 and told them what had happened. Breonna Taylor would then not receive any media attention for 20 minutes after she was struck. Ms. Taylor was said to have passed away less than one minute after she was shot [30].

The police officer who had killed Breonna Taylor was never convicted for her murder, yet only for “wanton endangerment” for firing into a neighbouring apartment. The rest of the officers involved have been dismissed from the police force, but none have been prosecuted for Breonna’s death.

The response to the killing of Breonna Taylor was huge and fuelled numerous demonstrations throughout the country. The incident had a huge impact on the awareness of racial injustice in the United States. This moment was as well the start of the trend #SayHerName, which is meant to raise awareness on the significance of spreading the word on cases such as hers, and not diminishing them. It is said to “shed light on Black women’s experiences of police violence to support a gender-inclusive approach to racial justice that centres all black lives equally [23].

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 George Floyd

The death of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 has caused disturbance in multiple countries. He would have paid with a fake money bill for his cigarettes which led to a 911 call to the police [13]. Once arrived, a police officer grabbed his gun and asked Floyd to show his hands.

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George Floyd – Image by: Ruth Richardson [24]

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An account of the incident does not say anything about the reason why the officer used his gun at that time. Floyd cooperated when he was handcuffed but began to struggle when the police officers intended to put him in the police car. He was claustrophobic, he said. Eventually, one of the police officers was placing his knee on the neck of George Floyd while he was laying on the ground [4]. Floyd kept saying he couldn’t breathe. In the end, George Floyd died because of suffocation [33].

News about the way how George Floyd died and videos of bystanders spread fast around the globe. In multiple countries citizens marched together in solidarity with protesters in the United States [29]. These protests are also known as the Black Lives Matter-movement [16]. Especially after the previous cases of police brutality, such as the one of Breonna Taylor, the death of George Floyd was by some described as “the limit”.

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Also in many other countries, including in the Netherlands the BLM-movement grew its roots in the society, reaching further than only marching in different cities across the country to show solidarity to the demonstrators in the United States [34]. At a certain point the mirror was also turned to the country itself. The focus of the demonstrators changed to discrimination and racism in the Netherlands [26] [28].

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Graffiti art of George Floyd – Image from:  World News US & Canada [6]

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The Netherlands

The Netherlands is one of the countries in the world that wants to make clear that racism is not accepted in its society. The country recognizes even a law about the unacceptance of discrimination. However, the Netherlands is another country that has a history of institutional racism and police brutality cases.

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Mitch Henriquez

What was supposed to be a fun music festival in The Hague ended in an arrest for the Aruban Mitch Henriquez that eventually became fatal to him on 28 June 2015. He was arrested because he would have said that he had a weapon in his possession when he was at the festival. Multiple police officers responded to this statement.

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Mitch Henriquez – Image from: NOS [18]

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When Henriquez did not cooperate the police officers were trying to arrest him [7]. Eventually, one of the police officers used a chokehold while the other four police officers held him down. The day after his arrest Mitch Henriquez died because of lack of oxygen caused by the hard-handed arrest [8] [17].

Multiple witness videos of the arrest were posted online and resulted in commotion among the Dutch society about the arrest of Henriquez and police brutality. The arrest was labelled as ‘discrimination’ and led to multiple demonstrations [17] [15]. These demonstrations had different characters. For example, some transformed in riots that lasted for days in The Hague. A group of people was arrested, because of violence, fire-raising, sedition and plundering shops [19]. On the other hand, the death of Henriquez resulted also in peaceful demonstration. For instance, in 2017 a peaceful demonstration took place, because the sister of Henriquez asked the demonstrators to do so. The demonstration was also followed by the police [15]. The cousin of Mitch Henriquez describes the demonstrations as demonstrations against police brutality, rather than against racism [11].

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Driss Arbib

Having dinner with a friend at a restaurant in Amsterdam ended for Driss Arbib in a live-taking situation on the 6th of August in 2003 [1]. Arbib got into a fight with four other customers of the restaurant, during which he got wounded. At a certain point, Arbib left the restaurant and eventually came back with a knife. At that time, police officers already arrived at the restaurant and felt threatened by Arbib, who had the knife in his hand. One of the two police officers shot Arbib and he died on the spot [31].

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The death of Driss Arbib caused disturbance among the Dutch citizens, especially among Moroccan community [32]. Some citizens think that the police officer was discriminating and shot Driss Arbib, because he was Moroccan. The family of Arbib think the action of the officer was unacceptable, because shooting Arbib in the foot or arm also could have stopped him [12]. Around a thousand citizens gathered in Amsterdam to demonstrate against ‘meaningless police brutality and discrimination’. The organizing committee of the demonstration took preventive measures to make sure the demonstration wouldn’t escalate in riots [2]. A niece of Arbib also asked demonstrators to behave in a worthy way [20]. However, some demonstrations turned out into riots in which a special task force of the Dutch police department, called the ‘Mobiele Eenheid’ (ME), had to intervene [27].

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Well-known for its beaches, Amazonia forest and festive spirit, Brazil still face a huge problem as racism. Mostly not from its general population but from its police, or other authorities. Black and indigenous people still suffer from a discrimination based on sheer colour of their skin, although they are as much Brazilian as any other.

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João Pedro

On 18th of May, João Pedro left his house in Rio de Janeiro to visit his cousins. It was supposed to be another normal day, however as the cousins live in a favela in Rio there is always police activity [3]. Already at his cousin’s apartment, João Pedro and the rest of the boys dropped to the floor as there was a police raid due to criminal activity at the favelas, including the civil and military police of Rio de Janeiro.

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George Floyd and João Pedro, both victims of police brutality – Image from Giovana Kebian [14]

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As some drug dealers were running from the police, João Pedro was shot in the back by a rifle from the military police. The boy was evacuated by helicopter to a fire-fighter’s hospital 18 km away [3]. Unfortunately, the boy was declared dead even before his arrival at the hospital.

The boy’s family was not informed about to where he was taken, so the family had to look for him all night. The family and black community were outraged as this was another consequence of indiscriminate violence in black communities by the police. Citing the boy’s father “This must stop. (…) The police should be protecting us, not killing us.” [21].

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Emily dos Santos & Beatriz dos Santos

Two cousins, Emily and Beatriz, four and seven years old respectively. Two young black girls that got shot down by the police, once again sparking a wave of indignity from the black communities against police behaviour [22].

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Emily & Beatriz dos Santos – Image from Reprodução/TV Globo [9}

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Both were playing at their grandmother’s house, in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, when another police raid started around 8:30 pm. According to official reports from authorities there was not any police activity that night, however some witnesses claimed that police officers started to shoot. In this confrontation, both girls got shot [22].

Once again this brought a wave of protests as two more black children got shot by the police, increasing the total of eight children shot, just in Rio de Janeiro, being almost every case a black victim. Citing Beatriz’s mother, Ana Moreira, “I wasn’t raising my daughter so she could become part of statistic.” [22].

This leads to the unavoidable question of, how is it possible that police authorities continue killing black people, some of them only children without any accountability. This became a crucial question from black community to the government, including a statement from Brazilian movement of Black Lives Matter, “as long as there is racism, there is no democracy” [25]. This with the purpose of raise awareness to the systematic racism in Brazil.

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These cases show that institutional racism is a global problem and, sadly, deserves to be addressed as a problem and scandal. Although the cases that has been discussed are far apart from each other geographically wise, the incidents do share multiple similarities. All of the cases got their far-reaching power from media. The horrible stories were widely spread through news channels, newspapers and social media platforms.

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Message anti-racism in Brazil that says “Racists, we still are the majority” – Image from Radical Graffiti, Instragram [10]

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 Furthermore, another similarity that the cases have is the impact that they had, and even still have, on the national population. All six of them resulted in demonstrations in the origin country of the incident. The main purpose of all the demonstrations was to raise awareness, however the topic for the awareness-raisings diverse per case. For example, the main difference between the case of Mitch Henriquez and the case of George Floyd is that the George Floyd case has a strong racism-aspect. When it comes to the case of Henriquez it is all about police brutality, said by the cousin of Mitch Henriquez [11].

Another difference worth mentioning is about the global power of the case of George Floyd. This case resulted in demonstrations all over the world because of globalization and media, while the other cases also contain the significant present of the media factor, however are less discussed across the borders of the origin country and related countries. This can be explained by the fact that this case was a fast follow up of the Breonna Taylor case. Also the case happened in COVID-time, so people all over the world are confronted with negative news while staying at home all day. The BLM-movement after the death of Floyd provides a certain collective that gives meaning and a purpose in these uncertain and depressing times, which can explain its greater global impact in comparison with the other discussed cases.

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[1]   Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau. (2005, July 22). Agent niet vervolgd voor doodschieten Marokkaan. Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://advance-1lexis-1com-1b15kb5am0030.access.nhlstenden.com/document/?pdmfid=1516831&crid=c739c93c-23ba-4464-b7c2-b1ea9e7c8ba3&pddocfullpath=%2Fshared%2Fdocument%2Fnews%2Furn%3AcontentItem%3A4GPT-B6T0-00B0-7284-00000-00&pdcontentcomponentid=149014&pdt

[2]   ANP. (2003, August 16). Duizend mensen bij demonstratie ‘tegen politiegeweld’. NU.nl. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://www.nu.nl/algemeen/191037/duizend-mensen-bij-demonstratie-tegen-politiegeweld.html

[3]   Barbon, J., & Lemos, M. (2020, May 20). 14-Year-Old Boy Killed at Home during Federal Police Operation in Rio. Folha de São Paulo.

[4]   BBC News. (2020, July 16). George Floyd: What happened in the final moments of his life. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52861726

[5]   (2020).Breonna Taylor, 26, was a decorated emergency medical technician. Breonna Taylor: What happened on the night of her death? Retrieved March 24, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-54210448

[6]   Canada, W. N. (2021). George Floyd: Why is the trial so important? Retrieved March 25, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-56270334

[7]   De Stentor. (2020, January 18). Familie Mitch Henriquez eist opheldering over inspectierapport. De Stentor. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://advance-1lexis-1com-1b15kb5it00a3.access.nhlstenden.com/document/?pdmfid=1516831&crid=02a03249-33ed-4a05-b61f-a9d5a3acbed6&pddocfullpath=%2Fshared%2Fdocument%2Fnews%2Furn%3AcontentItem%3A5Y37-B3T1-JBHV-K1JH-00000-00&pdcontentcomponentid=467108&pdt

[8]   Dutch News. (2017, December 21). Mitch Henriquez case police officers get six months suspended jail terms for assault. Dutch News. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2017/12/mitch-henriquez-case-police-officers-get-six-months-suspended-jail-terms-for-assault/

[9]   Globo, R. (2021). Emilly e Rebeca foram assassinadas enquanto brincavam na porta de casa, em Duque de Caxias. Polícia realiza reprodução simulada da morte de Emily e Rebecca nesta quarta. Retrieved March 24, 2021, from https://g1.globo.com/rj/rio-de-janeiro/noticia/2021/03/10/policia-realiza-reproducao-simulada-da-morte-de-emily-e-rebecca-nesta-quarta.ghtml

[10]   Graffiti, R. (2021). Retrieved March 25, 2021

[11]   Haspels, J. (2020, June 2). Familie van Mitch Henriquez niet bij demonstratie. (AD). Retrieved March 18, 2020, from AD: https://www.ad.nl/den-haag/familie-van-mitch-henriquez-niet-bij-demonstratie~ae98309c/

[12]   Het Parool. (2003, October 30). ‘We zullen dit verhaal nooit kunnen geloven’ ; ‘En waarom heeft die agent hem dan niet in zijn voeten geschoten, of in zijn arm?’. Het Parool. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://advance-1lexis-1com-1b15kb5am002d.access.nhlstenden.com/document/?pdmfid=1516831&crid=62109aee-6e5d-4a27-a2f9-d1cb967a0c32&pddocfullpath=%2Fshared%2Fdocument%2Fnews%2Furn%3AcontentItem%3A49WM-MR70-0151-04BS-00000-00&pdcontentcomponentid=259062&=pd

[13]   Hill, E., Tiefenthäler, A., Triebert, C., Jordan, D., Willis, H., & Stein, R. (2021, March 12). How George Floyd Was Killed in Police Custody. The New York Times. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/31/us/george-floyd-investigation.html

[14]   Kebian, G. (2020). George Floyd and João Pedro: how Brazil and the United States keep up with genocide politics. George Floyd and João Pedro: how Brazil and the United States keep up with genocide politics. Retrieved March 24, 2021, from https://giovanakebian.medium.com/george-floyd-and-jo%C3%A3o-pedro-how-brazil-and-the-united-states-keep-up-with-genocide-politics-4e63f9805511

[15]   Klomp, C. (2017, December 16). Protest tegen politiegeweld Mitch Henriquez rustig verlopen. AD. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://www.ad.nl/binnenland/protest-tegen-politiegeweld-mitch-henriquez-rustig-verlopen~a492448d/

[16]   Maqbool, A. (2020, July 10). Black Lives Matter: From social media post to global movement. BBC News. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-53273381

[17]   NOS. (2015, November 6). Hardhandige arrestatie werd Mitch Henriquez fataal. NOS. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://nos.nl/artikel/2067517-hardhandige-arrestatie-werd-mitch-henriquez-fataal.html

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