An Iranian PhD student was stopped by the police on Monday afternoon as he underwent his daily exercise routine of walking with a weight vest, after they received a call from a member of the public.
Goudarz Kamiri, who studies physiology, anatomy and genetics at University College, had been doing his regular morning walk down Southfield Road, when he was forced to halt near the O2 Academy.
“The police officer said to me, ‘stop, stop’, and it was a few seconds before I realised he was actually talking to me. I was told to put my hands in the air and drop whatever was in my hands.”
The police officer, himself wearing a police vest, began examining Kamiri, requiring his help in taking off the 30kg vest.
“He asked me whether I knew what this looked like – “somebody with my appearance” wearing the vest – and I didn’t even really know what he meant: was it my skin colour?”
Kamiri spoke to Cherwell yesterday evening, commenting, “The fact that when it became obvious that I was not a terrorist, they still wanted to check everything and insisted on taking my details, bothered me a lot.”
He was indignant at the response of the police, which was to tell him not to wear the vest again. He commented, “This route is convenient for me – why should I change just because people are paranoid?”
“After my huge discussion with the two police officers I kept going with my training. Walking past them a second time in their car they told me, “Why don’t you just call it a day?” and demanded that I take off my vest again. I said no – it was heavy, I didn’t want to walk with it in my hand. Eventually I put my jacket over it, and still they were not completely satisfied.”
Kamiri contacted the Oxford Mail to tell his story, saying, “I wished that what they [the police] had done was once they realised I was no terrorist was go back to the people who called and explained that to them.”
“I did it partly to let those people know that there was no need to have been suspicious and also to make the point that we seem to be living in a society where people are paranoid. There is so much fear and anxiety, and the only way to take it away is through communicating. Just because someone looks Middle Eastern does not mean he or she is a terrorist, and it is the terrorists who want to induce such fear in society.”
When asked if he had any sympathy with the police’s point of view, he conceded, “I understand police have to go check but once they realise their mistake why go further? That is what is wrong.”
Since the article, Kamiri has been getting numerous calls from various organisations desiring to speak with him. He said, “The reaction was pretty much expected … the focus on the police, the word ‘terrorist’ and the Middle Eastern appearance.”
He stressed that he did not mean this to happen. “A lot of the reports of the incident that are out there make it seem like I am playing the race card. That was never my intention. There have been comments saying I am stupid – some people saying that these vests should be illegal. But I feel like it is not about the vests and it is not about my race – it is about the anxiety and fear in society. That is what is crazy for me.”
Superintendent Amanda Pearson, police commander for Oxford said, â€¨â€¨“Due to the nature of the call received, the control room enquired as to whether any armed response units were nearby. As one was in Oxford, officers from the unit were sent to the incident and spoke to the gentleman concerned.”
“While I appreciate that in this case being stopped and checked by the officers may have been unsettling to the gentlemen concerned, the officers were responding to a call from a member of the public who had a genuine concern and police are duty bound to investigate any calls of this nature to ensure public safety.”