Claudia Ashanie Wilson is devastated that Reykjavík police twice placed her 16-year-old son in danger because he was mistaken for a fugitive with a similar skin colour. She told RÚV that she hopes the Icelandic police force and Icelandic society will learn from the incident.
Police had two interactions with Claudia’s son last week, in connection to their search for a 20-year-old fugitive. Last Wednesday, special forces stopped and boarded a bus after receiving a tip that the fugitive was on it. It was, however, Claudia’s son who was on the bus. The incident caused outrage among Icelanders as the two boys did not resemble each other in any way except having a similar skin tone. Police stopped Claudia’s son a second time the very next day, while he was at a bakery with his mother, again after receiving a tip that the 20-year-old fugitive had been seen.
“Words a Black mother never wants to hear”
“It was a total nightmare, to be brief. My innocent child was put in very dangerous and threatening situations, just because of the colour of his skin,” Claudia stated. “I have maybe said this before but there are three words that a Black mother never wants to hear in the same sentence, and they are ‘police,’ ‘guns,’ and ‘your child.’”
Claudia, who is a human rights lawyer, said she is thankful for her family’s strong support network. “He is getting the necessary trauma counselling and he is lucky enough to have two moms and two dads and plenty of friends and family who are taking care of him.”
Hopes the incident is educational
Claudia called the incident humiliating, but despite the trauma it has caused, she would rather look forward and try to learn from the incident. “There are way too many stories about this, I would say police interaction with innocent children of foreign origin for no reason, and especially those who are visibly of foreign origin, unfortunately. That alone can lead to mistrust of the police which I think no one wants.”
In her work as a human rights lawyer, Claudia says she has repeatedly heard of racial profiling within Icelandic policing, something that must be uprooted. The police have clearly made mistakes in this case which lowers public trust towards them. “We are not going to solve any problems by ignoring the elephant in the room. We have to work on this together, this is a social issue that we are all responsible for.”