An African Comments

A revealing interview with Ghanaian Paul Kojo on Mike Brennan, police brutality and racism in Vienna

Opinion | Anthony Loewstedt, Kata Cserveny | March 2009

"Everyone on the subway was aware of the Brennan incident," said Paul Kojo, a native of Ghana who has lived in Austria for 23 years. "It always comes down to showing one’s ID. I have personally never had any confrontation with the police, only routine controls. I have been checked four times in over 20 years. But, most of my white friends have never been checked.

"Recently, these checks have been rampant. A friend of mine came to work angry the other day after having been pulled over by police. Colleagues were joking about him looking like a drug dealer." But you have to understand the police point of view, too, he said. Coming from a police family, he sees routine checks as part of a policeman’s duty.

"Everyone knows there are racist policemen. Although they are racist, they are police, [and we have to respect that]. But racism is everywhere and comes from all kinds of people in any country."

"And when people from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds mingle, the police, as a state organ, must act to prevent racism. They are supposed to maintain secure security and provide peace. But, instead, they can be part of the problem."

However, even in Austria, in a country with espoused racist politicians, Kojo does not think the state itself is racist.

"Racism is a social problem," he said, "but it becomes a political problem when the state does not intervene when racist incidents take place, or when racist individuals use the state apparatus to vent their racism."

Some of the problems for Africans also stem from a lack of support from home.

Among other things, there has been a policy of neglect from the African politicians, diplomats, and the African governements governments when their citizens encounter difficulties abroad. Nigerian Marcus Omofuma was murdered by Austrian police, but there was no reaction from the African states or the diplomatic corps.

"Africans in this country have no power behind them," Kojo said. "They are repeatedly mistreated recurrently, but there is no reaction. African diplomats are not doing their job. There is a stereotype, for instance, that Nigerians are drug dealers "par excellence," he said. "Omofuma was no drug dealer, but there were no steps taken by the Nigerian government [in his defense.] Nor, of course, was there any formal apology by the Austrian government."

In contrast, he said, Moammar Ghaddafi of Libya protects his people abroad, pointing out that he had recently threatened to stop the oil flow to Switzerland when his son was attacked there. He gave no examples of the defense of regular citizens.

Kojo does not see this problem as specifically Austrian, however.

"Racism is a universal problem," he said, "and the problems of racist policemen and racist police practices, are, unfortunately, also universal."

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