Police brutality: mandatory anti-racism training needed 

It is therefore high time that the government take ownership of this integration policy, and allocate the necessary resources to implement it once and for all

News that three police officers have been accused of ‘excessive force’ – a euphemism, in this case, for extreme racially-motivated brutality - has understandably prompted a public outcry, as well as a stern rebuke from Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri.

But it also should serve as an eye-opener. Apart from reminding us that violent forms of racism and intolerance are to be found, even within the institutions that we rely on for law-enforcement; this case also exposes the stark realities that Malta now experiences, as a multi-ethnic community that still lacks the basic institutional infrastructure to match.

The three police officer have since been arraigned in connection with two separate incidents, in which migrants were allegedly first abducted and beaten, and then abandoned in an uninhabited area. The bodily harm and abduction charges – already serious enough, on their own - are further aggravated by their racial motives. 

While it is noteworthy that the alleged abuse was reported by members of the police force itself - a welcome sign that such cases are not being shrouded by ‘omerta’ - the fact that police officers are facing such serious allegations should be another wake-up call to tackle racism in disciplinary forces head-on. 

This should have happened after the murder of Lassana Cisse Souleymane, allegedly by members of the Armed Forces, in a 2019 drive-by shooting; and even earlier cases such as the beating of migrants protesting at the Safi detention centre in 2007; and the alleged murder of Abdalla Mohammed in a Detention Service van in 2012. 

The seriousness of this case cannot be underestimated, however, as it sends out a chilling message to the migrant community: further eroding its trust in the Police Force, and in authority in general.  The risk is that migrants, particularly those from Africa, will be hesitant in seeking police assistance, or to collaborate with the force.  

In an increasingly multi-ethnic country, where foreigners now account for 22% of the population, it is of vital importance that the police force is trusted by everyone living in Malta.  The loss of trust of migrant communities in the police will simply push more people to the periphery and into self-policing ghettoes, to the detriment of the well-being of the nation. 

While we welcome the immediate steps taken by the police force to arraign the alleged culprits – as well as the strong condemnation of Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri, who in parliament described the case as “disgusting and infuriating” - we also expect concrete steps to weed out any element of racism from the disciplinary institutions. 

Malta should follow the example of other countries facing similar problems in tackling this issue. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, for example, the UK formulated a Police Race Action Plan to address the significantly lower levels of trust and confidence among the black community.  

One of the measures enacted in the plan is the introduction of mandatory training for all police officers and staff about racism, anti-racism, black history and its connection to policing.  Moreover, a strong message needs to be sent to members of disciplinary organs, that racist views are incompatible with membership in institutions which have to accord protection to everyone irrespective of their ethnic background.   

Moreover, the government - including Byron Camilleri himself - should be careful about the message being sent to the population, when it turns police action against ‘migrants over-staying their visas’ into a media spectacle meant to assuage racist sentiments, following the Hamrun brawl involving Syrian migrants.  

While the law should be enforced, publishing photos of people being arrested for what amounts to a minor misdemeanour sends out the message that these people – most of whom are African migrants, performing low-paid jobs - are some sort of ‘menace to society’.  

In short, such heavy-handed tactics and propaganda only serve to dehumanise migrants and expose them as targets for legitimate retribution.  Moreover, most people do not distinguish between different categories of migrants; and so much hype surrounding tens of arrests and deportations only serves to raise expectations of a more widespread ‘purge’ which no sensible government would ever deliver. 

It is also time for Malta to face the dark underbelly of its breath-taking economic growth, which was also fuelled by the labour of thousands of migrants: some of whom are living in a legal grey area, and working in precarious conditions.  This reality can only be addressed through the implementation of an integration policy covering all aspects of life.

Malta already has a Migrant Integration Policy and Action Plan, presented by former Equality Minister Helena Dalli in 2017.  But as the former Minister - now EU commissioner – had warned, at the time, “the document does not bring about integration... It’s through its implementation that we can be successful.”

It is therefore high time that the government take ownership of this integration policy, and allocate the necessary resources to implement it once and for all.