MELBOURNE - Targeting Muslims and Africans in stop-and-search operations, Australian police are facing accusations of racial profiling of minorities."It's almost like there's a culture of denial going on here so policy makers, politicians and police deny that there is a problem," Melbourne lawyer Tamar Hopkins, from the Flemington and Kensington Legal Center in Melbourne's inner-west, told ABC News on Monday, August 27.
"We need to look at what is it that is happening within Victoria Police that is leading to these claims of racism and racial profiling."
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Melbourne Police have been accused of targeting ethnic minorities, particularly those of African background.
Accusations include that police stop and search young people of African background, sometimes several times a day.
"If you have a police officer treating people differently because of their skin color, they are engaging in racial discrimination and that is unlawful under the Federal Race Discrimination Act," Hopkins said after handling about 200 complaints of police brutality.
The Australian lawyer opines that the unjustified police measures have led to changing the behavior of young Muslims and Africans, who were trying to avoid the police attention.
"People who I've spoken to say that the police will stop us if we're in groups of more than two," Hopkins said.
"So they split up when they're going out in public, which is just extraordinary.
"Others have told me that this young man said he goes running, but when a police car goes past, he stops because he knows that if the police see him running, they're going to suspect him of a crime, she said.
"There's this sort of an awareness that the police are going to be wondering if they are carrying a bag or carrying a knife and people have told me that they sort of drop their hands and show their palms so that no-one would think that they're carrying anything."
One of the police victims was Sydney lawyer Adam Houda, who was arrested half a dozen times while walking down the street.
"I've been picked up five times for walking down my street," he Houda said.
"What I do differently is I don't walk down the street anymore, because on the last two occasions when I was reaching for my phone so I can start recording the exchanges, the police officer went for his Taser gun.
"So things can be misconstrued, it's dark out there."
The abusive police practices are seen undermining the trust between ethnic minorities and law enforcement officers.
"I've had a lot of people come into my office and seek representation in relation to police approaching them for no particular reason at all," Houda, a prominent criminal lawyer in Sydney, said.
When they asked officers why they approached them, the officers would say 'you've been targeted because you fit the profile of young people that potentially could start committing criminal offences'
The problem has maximized after the 9/11 attacks.
"I spoke to a very, very senior police officer who told me many years ago, they couldn't get recruits out at Bankstown, but post-September 11, all the recruits wanted to start going to Bankstown," Houda said.
"So you've got people who think they're out there doing God's work - zealots, if I can sum them up in a word.
"From my experience, police officers, a lot of them out at Bankstown are just completely out of control.
"They're quick to issue press releases that they've come across a wall of silence with the community in investigating crimes, but you know what, it's entirely their fault in the way they deal. But, members of the community in the Canterbury-Bankstown region don't trust police."
Hopkins, the Melbourne lawyer, called for the introduction of stop-and-search receipts to hold police officers to account.
"This is a proposal that has been up and running in the UK since 2004 in response to a major inquiry that recognized systemic racism within the Metropolitan Police in the UK," she said.
"What it has shown in the UK is that data has begun to be collected, because every time one of these stops and searches is issued, what's also noted is the race of the person who's been stopped and they have clearly shown that if you're black, you're six times more likely to be stopped on the street than if you're white.
"I think it's one that we should really look at introducing here in Victoria and in fact Australia-wide."
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.
In post 9/11-era, Australian Muslims have been haunted with suspicion and have had their patriotism questioned.
A 2007 poll taken by the Issues Deliberation Australia (IDA) think-tank found that Australians basically see Islam as a threat to the Australian way of life.A recent governmental report revealed that Muslims are facing deep-seated Islamophobia and race-based treatment like never before.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net