Today Woonopstand presents a black book with statements and images of victims and witnesses of the absurd, reprehensible and violent police action during the demonstration in Rotterdam on 17 October. We condemn the excessive police action and demand that Mayor Aboutaleb initiate an independent external investigation.
In our statement (see below) we examine the many ways in which excessive police action has severely curtailed the right to demonstrate, the use of heavy force by police and riot police against demonstrators, and the profiling and criminalization of groups of fellow protesters. Woonopstand stands in solidarity with everyone who has become a victim of the actions of the Rotterdam police.
On October 17, nearly 10,000 people attended the national Residential Revolt demonstration in Rotterdam to protest against the failing housing policy. A demonstration that took place in a good atmosphere and peacefully was rudely disrupted by the intervention of the police and the riot police on the Erasmus Bridge.
Protesting is a fundamental right. Police chief Westerbeke mentioned in the AD of October 31 the police “the guardian of the rule of law”. But we find that the right to demonstrate has been severely curtailed precisely because of the excessive police action, and for some of the demonstrators their right to demonstrate has even been terminated by the police.
The Rotterdam police issued a selective part of the drone images free, on which many things cannot be seen that can be seen on the amateur images, Amnesty also says. Nor do we see what preceded the encirclement of a group of protesters. In addition to the heavy police brutality on the bridge, the excessive police action prior to the encirclement has seriously affected the right to demonstrate through preventive checks and profiling of groups of demonstrators.
Also Amnesty their serious concerns about police action, the Dutch Lawyers Committee for Human Rights talked about “shocking police action”. Eight local political parties have a council debate requested, written questions were put to mayor Aboutaleb and parliamentary questions to outgoing minister Grapperhaus.
On 4 November at 2:00 PM, the Rotterdam City Council Committee on Security and Governance will discuss the police action. Residential uprising will speak here together with co-initiators of the demonstration and individual demonstrators. In addition, we will black book and statement hand over to mayor Aboutaleb and council members. We note that the reactions of Deputy Mayor Van Gils, Police Chief Westerbeke and Commissioner Abdoel Wahid lack any kind of self-critical capacity, which is worrying when fundamental rights such as the right to demonstrate are violated.
Attached statement we explain this further.
On Wednesday 3 November 19:00, the Coalition against Police Violence organizes a demonstration against police brutality, racism and discrimination in the police and the further arming of the police. A follow-up protest will take place during the Security and Governance committee meeting.
Woonopstand is a broad coalition of (residential) struggle movements, action groups and organizations that work together to radically change housing policy and has formulated 9 concrete requirements for this. The Woonopstand is supported by more than 160 organisations. For more information, go to woonopstand.nl.
Severe curtailment of the right to demonstrate
Demonstrating is a fundamental right and freedom of demonstration must be respected as much as possible. It is the task of the mayor and the police to protect and facilitate the right to demonstrate as much as possible. It is therefore worrying that Deputy Mayor Van Gils his letter dated October 21. on the police action to the city council begins with the sentence: "It is my job to ensure the protection of protesters and bystanders." This suggests that from the outset the mayor only had an eye for public order.
According to the Constitution, 'combating and preventing disorder' is a legitimate reason to limit the right to demonstrate. But the barrier to action is high. Amnesty said about this in response to the action on October 17: “Only the police's expectation that some demonstrators might do something criminal does NOT justify this intervention” [see also the Handbook Demonstrating 'Almost holy']. Yet this is exactly what the police and the mayor have done Westerbeke in the AD: to intervene on the basis of the “fear of disturbances”. On the live stream of OPEN Rotterdam can be heard that a cop says to a protester "we don't want this group in the city center" and "nothing has happened yet and we want to keep it that way."
The statements of Deputy Mayor Van Gils and Police Chief Westerbeke show nowhere that there was a concrete threat that justified preventive police action. “Honestly, we didn't find much in the end. So you can say that it might have remained calm if we hadn't intervened," police chief Westerbeke also concluded.
We note that the right to demonstrate has been severely curtailed in various ways. Even before the demonstration, the police made attempts to limit the right to demonstrate, by asking us as organizers of the Residential Revolt about the presence of groups that we could be concerned about. The police also wanted to know in advance who would come to speak. We have not shared any information. We point out that the police should not have asked this, because it can lead to vague suspicions and profiling of groups, who may no longer feel free to use their right to demonstrate.
The police also asked about the content of the various speeches and said that a Public Prosecutor would watch in the event of inflammatory speeches. The possibility of a speaker being removed from the podium was raised, with the police urging the organization to prevent this. This goes far beyond facilitating a demonstration. Residential Rebellion is committed to a radical reform of our housing policy that realizes housing as a human right. Housing rights are under great pressure in the Netherlands. We must be able to speak freely and fearlessly about radical solutions. Being able to unite is an essential part of this.
On the day itself, before and during the demonstration, the police action limited the right to demonstrate of fellow protesters by subjecting them to ID checks and preventive searches (e.g. in the streets around the park, at Rotterdam South station, in the Afrikaanderpark). According to Deputy Mayor Van Gils, this serves a purpose: “Early checking an individual or group often ensures that an identity becomes known to the police, so that the individual or group in question does not (or less) misbehave at a later stage. ” But in fact this is a limitation of the right to demonstrate. In the context of the right to demonstrate, the threshold for taking preventive action is very high, because preventive action, in the words of Amnesty, can deter people from speaking out and participating in demonstrations. People have the right to demonstrate unobserved. It is also highly questionable whether preventive frisking for this purpose is lawful.
We have received several reports of plainclothes officers who sought confrontation with fellow protesters during the demonstration in the park and during the march by approaching them in an annoying way. During the parade, it was the police who provoked people dressed in black by bumping into them and walking between groups of friends who were talking to each other.
During the march from the Afrikaander Park to the center, the right to demonstrate was severely curtailed by splitting the demonstration, a group of 150 to 200 demonstrators belonging to the anarchist bloc, among others, and isolating bystanders and holding up the entire demonstration for more than an hour. . A group of about 50 protesters was taken away by tram.
A much larger group of protesters – several thousand – have been deterred by the excessive crackdown and heavy use of force by the police and riot police and have left the demonstration prematurely to get themselves to safety. The police action has thus effectively terminated the right to demonstrate for thousands of citizens. In some statements included in the black book, people say they will no longer go to demonstrations.
There is nothing in the letter from Deputy Mayor Van Gils that can justify this excessive and preventive police action. The search where the brass knuckles would have been found did not take place during the demonstration, but prior to the demonstration in a supermarket near the Afrikaander Park. A potato peeler and light fireworks were also found. This is in no way a justification for frustrating the demonstration right of nearly 10,000 people and ending the demonstration right for a group of 50 protesters.
Excessive police action and use of heavy force
On October 17, contrary to what the organization had been told in the preliminary consultation, a huge police force was visible on its feet: regular police, riot police, plainclothes police and an arrest unit. There was also continuous surveillance on the march from a police van with a video camera. All this in contrast to what was during the discuss, based on approximately 10,000 demonstrators, the organization was told by the police: that 30 'flat caps' would be present and the riot police would only be present in the background, almost invisible. It is unclear why preventive action by the police was necessary if more than enough police were present to intervene effectively in case of disorder.
According to UN guidelines the police must act in a de-escalating manner during demonstrations. On October 17, the reverse happened. The demonstration was peaceful until the ME decided to isolate a group of fellow protesters. It was not the demonstrators or groups of demonstrators who blocked the Erasmus Bridge, the police did this themselves.
Deputy mayor Van Gils and police chief Westerbeke talk about anti-government slogans and anti-police slogans that apparently were partly the reason for keeping an eye on and ultimately isolating a group of demonstrators. Shouting anti-government slogans is an integral part of demonstrations. After all, the purpose of a demonstration is to bring about policy changes by criticizing the government. In the context of the fundamental right to demonstrate freedom, there is room to express opinions that are shocking, insulting and disturbing. In that context, the anti-government slogans on October 17 were fully justified.
Only after a large group of fellow protesters was taken hostage by the police (or in Van Gils and Westerbeke's terms "isolated") and the entire demonstration necessarily came to a halt, the atmosphere became grim. The 'house' only came into view after the police had held part of the demonstration hostage for more than half an hour. The police's own drone images and other images show that the house was driven towards the police at a slow pace, that there was sufficient opportunity and time for the police to stop the house earlier and that police officers allow watch the cottage being driven to the line. There is absolutely no question of a "attack in the back". The fact that Van Gils does not follow the chronology in this part of his letter is a clear sign that he is well aware that it was not (some of) the demonstrators who provoked the escalation, but that the escalation was entirely up to the police. is due.
The UN guidelines also prescribe that if the use of force is nevertheless necessary, the violence must be minimal. In the many statements by demonstrators themselves and by witnesses, and in the many video images and photos, we read and see that the police used very heavy violence against demonstrators. At least six people required emergency care and many more sustained physical injuries. For many people, including those who attended a demonstration for the first time, it has been a traumatic experience. The many video footage and photos show police, riot police and plainclothes officers beating batons at peaceful demonstrators, at demonstrators sitting on the ground, at demonstrators trying to get away. Several protesters were beaten on the head with batons. On photos recorded in the black book can be seen a cop reach for his gun, grab it, but thankfully change his mind, then hit a photographer with his baton while holding it. Police dogs were ready to be deployed and charges involving horses were carried out. A water cannon was approaching.
A group of 50 demonstrators has been removed from the Erasmus Bridge by tram. They are subject to ID checks, searched and photographed. Only five people from the tram were arrested after checking, according to Van Gils' letter, "possession of weapons, sedition, public defamation and insult". We now know that "weapon" was a potato peeler. We repeat Westerbeke's own observation: nothing has actually been found.
We also have serious concerns about the deployment of 'silents' (police in plain clothes) that have been observed in large numbers by us, fellow protesters and journalists. They mixed with the protesters and some of them behaved aggressively towards protesters. The degree of infiltration of 'silence' is also a cause for concern: some of them had protest stickers from participating organizations such as BPW on their clothing, chanted protest slogans and carried protest signs. A video shows a group of plainclothes officers jumping out of a van to arrest a protester and take them off in the van. These are actions that cause a lot of unrest among protesters and bystanders.
Profiling and criminalization of groups of fellow protesters
We are also very concerned about the way in which groups of fellow protesters have been profiled and criminalized by the police and Deputy Mayor Van Gils on the basis of ideological and external characteristics, and have been isolated and excluded during the demonstration. There was never any mention of "groups that could join", as the police indicated in the preliminary consultations and deputy mayor Van Gils also believes in his letter. The housing demonstrations attract a broad and diverse movement supported by more than 160 organizations that also welcome people who like to wear black clothes or call themselves anarchists. On the basis of vague information, the police have targeted groups of fellow protesters and made them suspicious and profiled them as groups that could pose a threat.
Even before the demonstration, during the consultations between the police and the organisation, the police asked for information about groups, explicitly mentioning the 'anarchist bloc', 'AFA' and Extinction Rebellion (XR). That these groups were also subject to surveillance and police brutality during the demonstration suggests that the police acted on prejudice and gut feelings and aimed at excluding specific ideological groups that are part of the housing struggle. Both statements by a police officer against a demonstrator on video (“We do not want this group in the city center”) and the position of the police on the Erasmus Bridge show that the mayor and police apparently think they have the authority to determine who are fundamental right to exercise freedom of demonstration.
The fellow protesters belonging to the 'anarchist bloc' and demonstrators identified as such by the police have already been subjected to ID checks and preventive searches before the demonstration and during the part in the park. A group of fellow protesters dressed in black were isolated from the rest of the demonstration on the Erasmus Bridge and part of them were taken away by tram. We note that the right to demonstrate of a group of citizens has been restricted on the basis of vague suspicions based on ideological and/or external characteristics.
Choice of clothing, face covering (the images show many face masks), group formation, anti-government slogans and large bags during a demonstration are not grounds that justify a preventive police check and it is therefore completely understandable that people tried to avoid these unfounded checks. Subsequently, this reaction is used by deputy mayor Van Gils and police chief Westerbeke against these demonstrators, which shows no awareness that the police's own action against this group of demonstrators has led to the "grim atmosphere".
Poor consultation of the police with Residential Rebellion
Housing revolt on October 17 was organized by dozens of people who spent months organizing a peaceful protest to draw attention to the immense housing problem and to urge politicians for a just housing policy. Several consultations were held beforehand with the municipality and, also separately, with the police (see below). During those consultations, the police promised to always remain in consultation with the organization during the demonstration, also in case of concerns about demonstrators or groups present and in the event of disturbances, so that we as an organization would have the opportunity to apparently behaved inappropriately to address this. At no point has this been made possible for us as an organization. It was only after the group of demonstrators had been isolated that we were told that the police had concerns about this group.
It is precisely we as an organization that can estimate how the behavior of demonstrators should be understood. We wonder what all the consultations with the police were for. The fact that the organization was not involved in the concerns that the police had about groups, both before and during the march, points to mistrust of its own citizens.
Residential revolt demands independent external investigation
If the police used force during a demonstration, it should be investigated. The letter from deputy mayor Van Gils and the statement from police chief Westerbeke cause us serious concern, because it shows no awareness of the responsibility of the mayor and the police for protecting everyone's right to demonstrate. The account offers no insight into the necessity of police action, nor into the legal-administrative frameworks of that action. It is very worrying that the mayor lacks any self-critical capacity and sees no problem whatsoever in the police action, especially after Amnesty and the NJCM have expressed their concerns.
The lack of problem awareness and self-reflection is even more worrisome because the police action on 17 October is unfortunately not unique to Rotterdam or to demonstrations in general. It also went wrong on September 12 during the Housing protest in Amsterdam. Rotterdam also has a longer history of excessive police action during demonstrations. Our mayor is apparently mayor of the police, but not of citizens who invoke their right to demonstrate. We no longer have confidence in Mayor Aboutaleb. Fundamental rights are not in good hands with him.
On November 4, the Rotterdam city council will discuss the police action in the city council committee on Security and Governance. We call on the municipal councilors to hold mayor Aboutaleb and police chief Westerbeke to account. We demand that the mayor and the police be fully transparent about the actions of the police and that they are accountable for the events on 17 October.
What is needed for this is an independent external investigation into the police action prior to and during the Residential Revolt on 17 October. Woonopstand is happy to share the questions it wishes to see answered in the independent external survey. The investigation should include at least the following:
- The legal-administrative framework for police action, administrative relocation by tram, ID checks and preventive frisking of demonstrators, and
- Police and riot police tactics in preparation for and on the day, including considerations on group profiling and de-escalation opportunities.
Accountability for the excessive action during the demonstration on October 17 is necessary not only for all demonstrators present, but also in view of the right to demonstrate and the safety of demonstrators at subsequent demonstrations in Rotterdam and elsewhere.
- with municipality and security services, online: September 16, September 22, October 7
- with the Feijenoord and Centrum police and the Large-Scale and Special Performance Staff Team (SGBO), at the Maashaven office: October 8, October 13.