In Belgium, protesters are tired of police violence against minorities. Over 500 people demonstrated in front of the police station where 23-year-old Ibrahima Barrie died. The protests got out of hand. At least 100 people were arrested. Four are still stuck.
Correspondent Sander van Hoorn moved into town the day after the demonstrations to gauge the mood:
Barrie died on Saturday after his arrest. Research showed that he succumbed to the consequences of heart failure. Whether the arrest played a part in this is now being investigated. But the lawyer of the next of kin is sure, he tells the VRT. “They left him unconscious for five to seven minutes. They let him die. When the family says, ‘That’s what happened because he‘s a black man’, I can‘t deny it, because I don’t think this would have happened to my son. ‘
About Barrie’s arrest, all sorts of stories are going around. The story of bystanders and the family‘s lawyer is that he was filming the police. According to bystanders, that was enough reason for the police to arrest him. The police themselves claim that he was on the run from a police check and was under the influence of drugs, but that’s not evident from toxicological research.
Yassine Boubout, expert in police brutality, is investigating the problem on behalf of the European Network Against Racism. He knows very well where the sentiment comes from in Brussels. “If you slap someone today, you‘ll be in court tomorrow. But we see that in these kinds of violent crimes by cops, the prosecutor’s office does not choose prosecution. And that is where the frustration and demand for justice comes from among young people from the Brussels districts”.
Boubout sees victims being criminalized by the police more often. “At the moment when cops have gone too far and, for example, a victim has fallen, they try to quickly cover the tracks. What you often see is that the police then spread rumors about the victim in order to criminalize the person and thus justify the violence”.
In April 2019, 19-year-old Adil died. He was on his scooter when he was hit by the police. A few months later, 18-year-old Mehdi was also killed by a police car. At that time, he ran away from a police check. “Both boys were criminalized at that time. They‘re supposed to be known to the police, but none of that turns out to be true. And you see that happen more often, not only with Adil, Mehdi or Ibrahima,” says Boubout.
The officers responsible have not been prosecuted. According to Boubout, this is partly due to the power of the police. “If the police have been free and abused power since the beginning of their existence, you will get impunity in the hands of certain agents”.
In recent years, dozens of people have been killed by police brutality. In 2018, Amnesty International published a report on ethnic profiling with the Belgian police. The report starts with a remarkable quote from a detective: “I do do ethnic profiling, but I don’t know how to do my job differently. We must discriminate because otherwise we simply cannot catch anyone.”
And that causes frustration for many young people in Brussels. Often a small group seizes violence to give themselves a voice. “People are frustrated because many cases do not come to court while there is a clear link between police violence and cause of death. This is their way of processing and ensuring that justice comes,” says Boubout.
They sympathize with the victim and the family, because they recognize themselves in them. Many coloured young people themselves often have to deal with police brutality. Not so bad that she is deprived of life, but they can place themselves in the victim.
A possible cause for the problem begins with police training. In Belgium, you take lessons in school schools for a year and then you do an internship for six months. Then you‘re a cop. It is one of the shortest police training courses in Europe. “Many Brussels agents do not live in Brussels. They don’t know the neighborhoods and the people. You have someone who doesn‘t look like you and then you don’t understand the context,” says Boubout.
Yet he sees changes coming in. For example, the police force in Ghent will investigate ethnic profiling, to see where the problems lie and how they can solve them. There is also talk about the use of bodycams within the corps. “You see small changes step by step, but now it‘s still a grain of rice in a large rice bag”.
Yet Boubout tries to stay hopeful. “Sometimes it feels like mopping with the tap open, but it doesn’t stop us from fighting for justice. On aday this is going to stop”.
Yesterday there was also a demonstration in Brussels following the death of Ibrahima Barrie: