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Thai police continue racially profiled raids

Major General Surachet Hakpan confronts africans arrested in Saturday's raid - Photo via Khaosod English

Major-General Surachet Hakpan confronts Africans arrested in Saturday's raid - Photo via Khaosod English

On Saturday evening Bangkok police arrested 14 more people under a campaign that is specifically targeting black people in Thailand.

The evening's events saw 32 areas within Bangkok raided, reportedly seeing seven Somalians, six Nigerians, and one American national arrested. Authorities say that the raids are targeting perpetrators of online romance scams, currency counterfeiting and credit card skimming. Authorities admit to having identified potential suspects by race.

In recent months Thai police have made such raids common procedure. On Monday, October 16, a similar raid saw 52 arrested in a process that was not backed by a court warrant. Fourteen Africans of varying national identity were arrested in mid-September and in July more than 80 were arrested. In every case black Africans were specifically targeted.

All of the raids were directed by Major-General Surachet Hakpan, deputy chief of the Tourist Police Bureau (TPB). Hakpan was named to this role in a senior police reshuffle in early September, which also saw the TPB upgraded from a division of the Metropolitan Police, to a fully fledged bureau. Police General Chakthip Chaijinda said that a rise in crime against Thailand's tourists called for more police to address the problem. “That gives us even more reason to protect tourists to ensure they aren't taken advantage of,” Chaijinda said in a statement.”

Tourism is a major contributor to Thailand's economy, with estimates putting it at 17.7% in 2016. Bangkok frequently ranks as one of the world's most visited cities, with most of its visitors hailing from other Asian states such as China, Malaysia, and Russia, but with a significant number of visitors from Western Europe and the Americas.

In 2008 the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok beat Times Square in New York City and the Eiffel Tower in Paris to become the most instagrammed location on Earth

In 2008 the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok beat Times Square in New York City and the Eiffel Tower in Paris to become the most instagrammed location on Earth

Unlike many countries within the Anglosphere, Thailand has no legislation which prohibits racial discrimination, and prejudice against people with darker skin tones is thoroughly embedded within the country's culture.

As a result casual racism is a non-issue for many in Thailand, with companies often making brand choices and running advertisements that would be considered unacceptable in other parts of the world. In 2016, Black Man cleaning products rebranded to Be Man, changing its logo from a wide smiling black man in a bow tie to a similar picture showing someone similar but of ambiguous race. In 2013, global brand Dunkin' Donuts ran a Thailand-based campaign advertising a Charcoal Donut, and featuring a Thai woman in blackface. Television adverts featured a light-skinnned woman eating the donut and being turned black, accompanied by the slogan “Break every rule of deliciousness". was able to recover the infamous Dunkin' Donuts advert

Dunkin' Donuts apologised unequivocally for the advert, but intitally the response was called “paranoid American thinking” by the Dunkin' Donuts Thailand CEO, in an interview with the Associated Press. “It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said CEO Nadim Salhani. “We’re not allowed to use black to promote our doughnuts? I don’t get it. What’s the big fuss? What if the product was white and I painted someone white, would that be racist?”

The problem of racial profiling refers to police targeting persons for suspicion of a crime based on race, ethnicity or a range of other factors. For people with black skin, this is a problem that is not limited to Thailand, but has a global context.

In Germany a court ruled in 2012 that skin colour was an acceptable criteria on which police could judge whether to spot-check a person for illegal immigrant status. However, in a subsequent ruling it was deemed legal for subjects of these spot-checks to compare them to policies used by the SS under Nazi Germany, and the ruling was later declared void.

In Spain, a University of Valencia study found in 2013 that non-white people were ten times more likely than whites to be stopped in the street by police. In 2014, the Spanish government passed a law prohibiting police from racially profiling, but many NGOs claim that the practice is still rife.

In Canada a policy was implemented in 2008 forbidding police from engaging in racial profiling, and forcing police officers to go through training on the matter. A report from the police force of the city of Kingston found that 'visible minorities' were 3.7 times more likely than white citizens to be pulled over. Later studies showed that this was true to various extents of anyone with darker skin, including South Asians, Latinos and Arabs.

Police at the car of Philando Castile, who was killed in a high profile shooting in 2016 - Photo by Tony Webster

Police at the car of Philando Castile, who was killed in a high-profile shooting in 2016 - Photo by Tony Webster

In the US racial profiling has been a flashpoint of debate for decades, with the primary talking point being the killing of African Americans by police. Robert Staples, professor emeritus of the University of California, describes racial profiling in the US as "not merely a collection of individual offences" but a system that was frequently, "codified into law". Supporters of the practice hold that it makes policing more efficient, by relying on the laws of probability to identify suspects.

The American Civil Liberties Union argues that racial profiling inhibits the victim's individual rights, and frequently results in the death of the victim. Joint research between the University of Chicago and the University of California shows that racial prejudice towards African Americans frequently informed police officers decisions to shoot at suspects.

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