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Police officers to protest on Friday in Brussels
Police officers in Belgium have used private Facebook groups to call on their fellow officers to gather in Brussels tomorrow to protest what they consider unfair treatment by the public, press and politicians over the last few months. They are also angry about allegations of aggressiveness during arrests and racism within the corps.
Earlier this month, a Black Lives Matter protest took place in Brussels, with some people looting shops after the protest had ended. Thirty police officers were injured.
Also this month, a campaign regarding racial profiling by the police was launched and just yesterday a black MEP testified in parliament that she was harassed by police in Brussels when she tried to film them involved in what she thought was an inappropriate interaction with two young black men. She has filed a complaint against the two officers.
All of this follows riots in Anderlecht during the corona crisis lockdown that saw police trying to disperse crowds who took to the streets following the death of a 19-year-old who was trying to escape arrest and had an accident on his scooter.
No permit to protest
Meetings took place today between police unions and federal interior minister Pieter De Crem. While unions are not supporting the police protest tomorrow, one spokesperson said that he understood the officers’ anger and might join them on Place Poelaert in front of the Justice Palace. That is also where the Black Lives Matter protest took place on 7 June.
“With regards to the corona measures, this isn’t the most opportune time to do this, but in fact, it’s become too much,” said Mario Thys, chair of the Brussels chapter of the NSPV union. “I’m also a police officer. We are painted by the press as bad guys and racists. I totally understand the frustration. They need to voice and to channel this frustration.”
He points to several critical comments by politicians on social media over the last few months. “The attitude of some politicians towards police departments is way out of proportion. When you see how some politicians continue to attack the police, denigrate them and call them racists – that is an affront to the truth.” Thys said he hopes for a debate among politicians, police and the justice ministry.
‘No structural racism’
As for federal police commissioner-general Marc de Mesmaeker, he stated today on Radio 2 that there is “no structural racism” within the federal police corps. “There are some isolated incidents, but I am absolutely disgusted with the muckraking and simplistic statements we have to keep swallowing.”
He pointed to a vast difference between how police are recruited and hired in Belgium compared to the US, where the Black Lives Matter movement gained force this month, following the death of another black man at the hands of white police officers. “The recruitment, selection, training and sanctions are completely different in Belgium,” he said.
He specifically named the ethnic profiling campaign, saying he wanted to open a dialogue with the organisers. He said that profiling “is against regulation” but that ethnicity can “be one objective parameter of a specific police intervention”.
Photo ©Paul-Henri Verlooy/BELGA