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Zurich police found not guilty in racial profiling case

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Zurich police found not guilty in racial profiling case
Switzerland's No Racism Alliance want an independent committee on racial profiling. Photo: Depositphotos
10:03 CEST+02:00
Three police officers have been cleared over a 2009 incident in Zurich in which a Nigerian man ended up in hospital after allegedly being assaulted during a late-night ID check.

Wilson A. was on a tram with two black friends when the officers asked the three for their papers.

When the Nigerian, then 36, demanded to know why he was being asked to show his papers, the situation escalated. Wilson A. alleges the police attacked him with pepper spray and threw him to the ground.

Read also: Reports of racism hit record high in Switzerland

One of the officers then placed him in a choke-hold “despite the fact I told him that I had had a heart operation and was carrying a defibrillator.”

“Fucking African, go back to Africa,” an officer said during the incident, according to the civil complaint filed by Wilson A.

“I thought I would never see my daughter again,” he said later of the incident.

But the three officers, including one female policewoman denied the allegations, saying Wilson A. had attacked them. They also said he had not mentioned a heart condition.

They stated they had not demanded to see his papers on a whim or “for racist motives” but because law enforcement authorities were seeking “a well-dressed, dark-skinned man”.

Read also: Racism in Switzerland - 'People of colour are automatically perceived as foreigners'

At the end of a dramatic two-day trial which was accompanied by demonstrations in support of Wilson A., state prosecutors found in the officers’ favour.

Switzerland's No Racism Alliance responded immediately by calling on Twitter for a independent committee to combat racial profiling.

The trial had originally been scheduled to go ahead in October 2016 but Wilson A.’s legal team then called for charges against the police officers involved to be elevated to “endangering life”.

Prosecutors, who had already twice tried to have the case thrown out of the courts, alleged lawyers were trying to buy time: in concurrent legal proceedings Wilson A. faced charges of violence and threatening public officials over the same 2009 incident. However, the statute of limitations in that case expired in autumn 2016.

But Wilson A.s lawyer Bruno Steiner earlier in the week told the independent Wochenzeitung newspaper that trying to get police prosecuted was a “mission impossible”. Officers “worked on their stories together” while charges were filed against his client to “turn him from a victim into a culprit”.

The Nigerian father of two told the paper he had been singled out by police for ID checks on numerous occasions, including in 2004 when he went to the post office without his documents. When his wife came to collect him, she found traces of blood on his wrists where he had been handcuffed, Wilson A. said.

“I was young and naïve. Now we know what to do. Get a doctor’s statement and maybe get the injuries photographed.”

The news above comes in the same week Zurich Police announced it wants all of its officers to wear body cams after a successful pilot project. But the move has been greeted nervously by Swiss police association the VSPB who fear it will create added pressure for officers

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