The Romani people have been victims of systemic racism for decades. The pandemic has only worsened their bloody realities.
Trigger Warning: Police Brutality, Racial Violence
While the pandemic may have brought businesses, schools, and our usual daily routines to a halt, it appears that systemic racism and police brutality stop for no one. Under the guise of administering stay-at-home orders, police officials in parts of Eastern Europe have been accused of propagating violence against the Romani people. Roma, as they are colloquially known, are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group. They originate from the Northern Indian subcontinent, but their most concentrated populations can be now found in Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe. Like any minority community across the world, such as African Americans in the United States or Dalits in India, Roma are disproportionately victims of police brutality. The pandemic and ensuing lockdowns have only aggravated the challenges they face, Al Jazeera reports.
In the last month alone, reporters at Al Jazeera managed to record at least eight instances of police violence against the Romani people. In one video obtained by the news outlet, police officials are seen beating eight Romani men and one 13-year-old boy for allegedly organizing a barbecue outside one of their houses. The victims were all handcuffed as several officers - some wearing uniform while others in plainclothes - took part in the collective punishment. Two officers can be seen holding a victim's arms while a third officer whips the soles of his bare feet. Another officer can be heard shouting racial slurs and threatening anyone who tries to report the punishment.
Two cases of police disproportionately using violence against Roma communities were recorded in Serbia and another three in Slovakia. In one of the cases that occurred in Slovakia, a police officer beat and threatened to shoot a group of Romani children. They were reportedly violating quarantine directives imposed by the military in Krompachy, a segregated Romani neighborhood. One of the children informed the media, "We went for wood and the cop began to chase us and shouted at us that if we didn't stop he would shoot us. We stopped and he took us into a tunnel and beat us there."
The UN condemnes the violence against members of the Roma minority in #Ukraine and urges the country to stop systematic persecution of #Roma minority in “alarming” attacks https://t.co/ZX350BvGv6 pic.twitter.com/PSqmcz58WT— Hromadske Int. (@Hromadske) July 30, 2018
Sadly, the reports have not come as a surprise to anyone. Just as we have become accustomed to expect violence against people of color in America, the Romani people are predicted targets of state-sanctioned police brutality. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights discovered that Roma communities are victims of institutionalized racism, often meted out by law enforcement, in Romania. The issue, however, is that the ongoing pandemic limits the powers of other actors - such as the media, civil society, and judicial systems - that are supposed to hold police and other government officials accountable for these egregious acts of violence.
Paralyzed by the various lockdowns across Europe, these state mechanisms have at present little to no power when it comes to preventing or correcting these brutal acts of systemic racism. Further to this, few people are witness to the police officials' crimes as they are indoors, following strict orders to stay at home. While we grapple with the expectations of what the world will look like once the pandemic has run its course, one thing is certain: it has brought to light, in each explicit and bloody detail, the vast, overreaching, and gory ways our societies are shaped to oppress and hurt minority communities. Jonathan Lee writing for Al Jazeera affirms, "Whether this pandemic brings about [a] radical change in our society or not, the exposure it has brought to the ugly, systematic state violence against Romani people may hopefully be enough to force Europe to finally make efforts to consign it to history."
Roma families in Hungary will be paid $310,000 after a school unlawfully segregated Roma schoolchildren and gave them "substandard education," the country's top court ruled.— AJ+ (@ajplus) May 13, 2020
Rights activists say Roma in Hungary also face poverty, workplace prejudice and even deadly violence. pic.twitter.com/cTjKlaANTC