Lisbon’s Ethnic Minorities Say COVID Means More Police Scrutiny

Several community organizers and business owners claim that the Lisbon police force is far more stringent with minority-owned business than with those owned by whites.

There’s been far more scrutiny of minority-owned businesses in Lisbon during the coronavirus crisis, and local organizers say there’s a major disparity there with the way things are handled with businesses owned by whites, Ana Naomi de Sousa reports on Al Jazeera.

“In my own neighborhood in central Lisbon, I don’t see the police going around here in riot vans, or wearing riot gear as they go around at night to check if people are out – but that’s what they do in the peripheries,” Ana Rita Alves, an anthropologist who works on housing and racism in Portugal, tells Naomi de Sousa.

The PSP tells Al Jazeera that it “has been fully exercising its functions consistently throughout the country, as has been demonstrated by the countless operations that are accompanied by the media.”

Activists working to defend the rights of residents in predominantly immigrant communities, however, have a different take.

Flávio Almada, a community organizer in Cova da Moura, tells Al Jazeera that the police show up in his neighborhood in riot gear or in riot vans.  

And people on the ground say that’s unwarranted.

José Sinho Baessa da Pina, a community organizer from Casal da Boba, tells Al Jazeera that “[e]ven though the impression in the media is that the peripheries are the epicenter of COVID, we’ve actually had hardly any cases here at all – but we are the most exposed.”

The response of the Lisbon police would suggest a far more serious case of the spread of COVID, meanwhile.

In May, the Bairro da Jamaica neighborhood saw more than 50 armed police officers in riot gear escorting public health workers in quarantine suits — along with several TV crews — to close eight local cafes during an alleged outbreak of COVID, Naomi de Sousa writes.

Ana Rita Alves, an anthropologist who works on housing and racism in Portugal, tells Al Jazeera that the media “contributed to the criminalization of racialized people in the peripheries.”

“They treat us completely differently up here. It’s like they’re not here to protect us – they’re here to provoke us,” da Pina tells Al Jazeera.

Mamdou Ba, one of the directors of the organization SOS Racismo, tells the news network that business owners in the suburbs have been telling the organization that they’ve been shut down while “the white cafe owner on the opposite corner has been allowed to stay open.”

“Racialized neighborhoods here have always been policed differently,” says Ba. “But COVID has not only made this state of exception the norm, it has actually brought legal and institutional support for it.”

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