The death of an Aruban tourist Mitch Henriquez during his arrest by police after he attended a Night in the Park festival in The Hague’s Zuiderpark at the end of June led to several nights of rioting in the city.
If it had not been for social media and films made by eye-witnesses on their mobile phones the matter would have probably been quickly forgotten as the main press channels told the police’s version of what happened. At first the police issued a statement that Henriquez had “become unwell in the police car”. However, eye-witness films showed the man was unconscious before he was bundled into a police van. At this point, the police, who have a monopoly on violence, failed to do two things: to give medical help and tell the truth. Both are very serious matters.
The police say they believed he shouted that he had a gun. However, eye witnesses say he was just being loud and was joking around, the “gun” he was referring to was between his legs. If police believe someone may be armed they are allowed to use a certain amount of violence during the arrest. However, the stranglehold used by one of the five officers who jumped Mr Henriquez from behind is controversial.
A few days later, the Public Prosecution admitted that Henriquez had probably died from a lack of oxygen caused by the police handling. This is unusually fast, as normally no conclusions would be made public pending an investigation. Pressure from Justice Minister Ard van der Steur, who admitted straight away he was shocked by the incident, no doubt prompted the quick response. And the fact that social media was moving much faster on the matter than traditional media.
In July, a video circulated on social media of a 13-year-old black boy who was arrested for “giving a false identification” in Almere. The minor was handcuffed to a police motor bike and forced to run at the same speed to the police station. In a newspaper report it said that the police officer reduced his speed as he approached the police station. The report left me wondering why the 13 year-old was asked for his ID in the first place. Dutch law only requires children from the age of 14 to produce an ID and then only if a police officer has good reason to ask for it. So why was he asked for his ID. It doesn’t say and the police, who have admitted the incident is “embarrassing”, have given no further explanation.
“The police officer who handcuffed a 13-year-old boy to his motorbike and made him run to the police station violated the child’s rights.”
According to Omroep Flevoland, a spokesperson for Defence for Children said: “The police officer who handcuffed a 13-year-old boy to his motorbike and made him run to the police station violated the child’s rights.” Police are not even allowed to treat adults in this way let alone children. The fact that the boy is black only adds to the sense that people with colour are more likely to be unnecessarily harassed by police.
The Hague police have a poor reputation for discrimination and violence. In 2012, a 17-year-0ld, Rishi Chandrikasing, was shot dead by a policeman on a station platform in the early morning in The Hague. The policeman claimed he believed the boy had a weapon. All he had on him were his keys and a mobile phone. After the policeman was acquitted of manslaughter a year later, a committee was set up to restore relations with the police. The NRC reported that discrimination was rife among police in the Schilderswijk district in The Hague. A report in the Groene Amsterdammer contradicted this however saying it was the behaviour of youths themselves which led to escalation.
“Although the police function fairly well, it is important to remain critical.”
Former ombudsman Alex Brenninkmeijer warned recently in a radio interview that Dutch police use firearms relatively frequently, Sweden for example only had two shooting incidents last year. Brenninkmeijer says “Although the police function fairly well, it is important to remain critical.” Luckily the Dutch police shoot nowhere near as many people as the police in the US. Nevertheless, commentators complained that an incident like this would be front page news in the US, like the ones in Ferguson and Baltimore. Here the press were slow to react to the social media storm.
However, an article in NRC Handelsblad says that police work has become more complicated and as a result police tend to use racial profiling to make their job easier. This is also happening against a background in which even ‘moderate’ politicians sketch immigration as a threat to society and, in the same breath, call for tougher measures to curb crime. At the same time, the relaxing of police protocols and regulations also makes it more likely that policemen on the beat discriminate. In short police discrimination is caused by the current political climate rather than the values of the individual policemen and women themselves.
In the days, following Henriquez’s death 27 arrests were made during rioting in the Schilderswijk district of The Hague. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte spoke out against the rioters, whom he refers to as “backward gladioli”. It’s the kind of outdated term you would expect to hear from anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders, but according to Joop.nl it is often used on the internet. Surprisingly, he did not speak out against the police action that led to the death of the 42 year-old Aruban man, father and a tourist visiting family in the Netherlands. Nor was any apology issued to the Aruban authorities, in spite of the close political ties with this fledgling nation, which is still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Minister for Kingdom Affairs Ronald Plasterk did phone Aruba’s Prime Minister Mike Eman to inform him an independent investigation would take place into the death. And Justice Minister Ard van der Steur announced an inquiry into the controversial use of the stranglehold which is banned in some US states.
In her column, anti-black Pete campaigner and filmmaker Sunny Bergman questions in her VPRO column why the Dutch media accepted the original Public Prosecution report, which later turned out to be wrong. If people with a non-white ethnic background are more likely to be subject to police harassment or violence, the word discrimination springs to mind. The seriousness of this is compounded when it turns out that the police have lied and the Public Prosecution Office has issued an untrue version of events and politicians fail to speak out against either. Basically if the media cannot accept the official statement from the Netherlands justice system as the true version of events, then there is something woefully wrong. That is the kind of thing that goes on in a banana republic or a police state. And when such a regime generally applies more to one section of the population, perhaps the Dutch authorities should take inspiration from Mandela Day.
The police officers involved in the Henriquez killing have been suspended. The policeman in Almere has been cautioned. Henriquez has been buried on Aruba and the riots have passed. The two incidents have been brought together on a Facebook page Justice for Mitch Henriquez and will join a long list of incidents over the years.
Now it is holiday time in the Netherlands, so the matter has died down until the next incident of police violence takes place. And it will. What is clear is that the police can no longer get away with injustice against citizens when everyone has a camera in their pocket.