by Massimiliano Sfregola
translation Giulia Tiriticco
The neighborhoods of Schilderswijk and Transvaal are just a few steps from the City Council. They are two well-known areas of the city, but their reputation is not exactly positive. The bad image of these districts, house of “foreign fighters”, is connected to factors such as the highest unemployment rate in the Netherlands and the recent clashes between police and allochtoonen. The violence that broke out after the death of the Antillean Mitch Henriquez has turned the national spotlight on the difficult relation between police and ethnic minorities; relation which is often based on discrimination, violence and abuse by the police.
Until recently, police deviance was a taboo in the Dutch society. Then, an endless series of amateur video clips flooded the Internet, reaching their viewership peak with the sad story of Mitch Henriquez. They undermined the collective idea that the episodes of abuse and racism by the police are only occasional incidents: “We talked about ethnic profiling [etnisch profileren] and we were considered crazy; the mayor kept on saying: in the police there is no racist culture, but only some rotten apples. Now he must finally admit that in the city police there is a problem. A big problem.”
So says Fatima Faid, council member in the municipality of The Hague, elected with the Haagse Partij, a movement that counts six elected council members and a councillor in the town board. According to Fatima, Dutch of Portuguese origin, the issue is now high on the political agenda of the group: “In 2014 alone, I have collected 60 well-documented complaints by young people, mainly of Moroccan and Surinamese origins. They reported to have been regularly annoyed by the police, stopped without any reason, and detained arbitrarily and without having committed any crime.”
Fatima used to work closely with Amnesty International, the first organisation that raised the issue of ethnic profiling carried out by agents in the Netherlands: “We organised a public meeting together with Amnesty. The mayor and the police chief ignored all my appeals to participate and then they broke the silence by publishing a study on the police of The Hague, commissioned in a hurry at the University of Leiden. The results? Of course, police is clean.”
According to Faid, on the contrary, the study of Amnesty on ethnic profiling holds a diametrically opposite view: not only discrimination exists within police, but also agents of ethnic minorities are victims of it: “Over 90% of the residents of Schilderwijk are of foreign origins, while more than 90% of agents are white. For the few agents who come from ethnic minorities it is very difficult: they are often subject to discrimination and isolated by the Dutch colleagues. We are not the only ones who keep on reporting this state of affairs; and lately the police chief has confirmed in his blog what we have being saying for a long time.”
Here Faid refers to the blog post by police chief Bouman which in April was published by the newspaper NRC.
What measures do you intend to take? “Surely a commission of inquiry; we are asking for it in any possible way, but many council members seem rather deaf about it” concluded Faid.