New Zealand police reject racism claim

2011-09-27 07:35

A New Zealand police chief today refused to apologise to a black South African journalist who claimed to be a victim of racism when he was accused of peddling drugs in a bar.

Vata Ngobeni, rugby writer for the Pretoria News, said officers took him to a police station from a bar in the North Island lakeside town Taupo early Sunday, saying a witness had told them he had offered tablets in the toilet.

“I had to take off my shoes, empty my pockets, they searched the inside of my jeans, all that stuff,” he told the New Zealand Herald.

“It’s difficult to prove you’re innocent when you are presumed guilty,” he later told Television New Zealand, which said he felt “embarrassed, harassed and extremely violated”.

Fellow South African reporters with him to cover the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand claimed in Twitter comments that the police, who released Ngobeni when they found no drugs on him, were racially motivated.

“Racism alive in this place,” wrote Michael Mentz, while Brenden Nel called the police action “racial profiling at its worst,” the Herald reported.

Local police chief Superintendent Glenn Dunbier rejected Ngobeni’s demand for an apology, telling Television New Zealand, “I’m not about to apologise for our police staff acting in a lawful manner, totally within police policy and in a way that was incredibly understanding and empathetic.

“This isn’t about race,” he said. “It isn’t about the Rugby World Cup. It’s about police dealing with drug-dealing in Taupo.”

Dunbier said police had information about increasing quantities of the drug Ecstasy and cannabis being sold in the town and were warned it was likely to increase during the Rugby World Cup.

He said Ngobeni fit the description of somebody dealing drugs “and we were obliged to act on that information. Ethnicity, occupation or any other details would be irrelevant”.

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