Brussels: Riots after fatal police chase
Update: Date fixes
Early Monday morning a special unit chased an Audi, ending up on the viaduct in Woutersbrakel, where the E19 crosses the Brussels ring road.
At about 4AM, an agent fired at the Audi driver because 'he felt threatened' [ed. according to another report, because his colleague was threatened]. The driver (29) died of his injuries on site. His passenger (21) tried to escape from the police by jumping from the viaduct. He was seriously injured and brought to hospital. His chances of surviving the fall are slim.
According to the first report of a ballistic expert, the agent acted properly. The suspect changed to first gear when he lay down on the passenger seat. The agent did not shoot with the intent to kill.
Police are not saying who the two men are, but say that they were gang members who were involved in a current investigation in Brussels, related to large-scale gang activity.
Riots started off in the Brussels suburb of Sint-Gillis Monday night. The incident began at about at around 8pm next to the Bethlehem Square. Several youth set off small fires and threw oil on the square. Calm was restored when the police showed up and occupied the square, but then the incidents began in earnest.
Youth threw stones at the police, turned over cars and set them alight. They also threw Molotov cocktails.
The Brussels-South police department (Anderlecht/Sint-Gillis/Vorst) got reinforcements from nearby departments and the federal police. Calm was restored after midnight.
Testimonies by residents and rioters show that there's a link between the recent wave of violence in Sint-Gillis and the fatal chase Monday on the E19, according to police chief Alphonse Peeters.
Thirty people were administratively destined during the riots Monday. One person was arrested.
There were incidents already earlier in the day in Sint-Gillis. Around noon, a police car was attacked and shortly afterward a group of about 30 youth threw stones at the police commissioner's office in Sint Gillis, breaking several windows.
Incidents on Tuesday
Three fires were set on Tuesday night in the Brussels suburbs of Sint-Gillis, Anderlecht and Sint-Jans-Molenbeek: Two cars and the entrance of a synagogue were set aflame. The synagogue fire was extinguished by neighbors, but the two cars burned down.
The first incident was at about 9:30pm in Sint-Gillis, when, according to neighbors, a group of youth threw a Molotov cocktail at a car. The youth could not be found later.
At about 9:45pm, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the synagogue door in Anderlecht. The fire was extinguished by neighbors and damage remained limited. According to neighbors the Molotov cocktail was thrown by a group of youth, who had made trouble on the street for a while and had set fire to several garbage bins.
At about 12:25AM, fire was set to a car in Anderlecht.
The police arrested an 18 year old Tuesday at around 5pm. A police patrol noticed a group of youth who had hidden their faces with shawls and were collecting stones. When the agents asked the youth for their ID, they ran away. The agents caught three on the Bethlehem square, but then Yassin T. (18) intervened and started insulting the agents. He was arrested.
The young man later apologized and said he intervened since his brother was among the kids. The police turned him over to the public prosecution.
The lost generations
Annemie Turtelboom (Open VLD), Belgian Minister of Internal Affairs, says that it cannot be tolerated that there are riots because the police chased criminals who are known to have committed armed crimes. "It is a social problem, where youth prefer a criminal society and where criminals are their heroes. They stand up for them, and riots start when the police arrest one of the heroes."
Despite the large police forces sent in, various politicians called for additional funds for the police. The Brussels Minister-President and mayor of Sint-Gillis, Charles Picqué (PS), called for more police presence 'in order to strengthen the neighborhood residents".
Turtelboom says that this won't solve the problems. "The cause is two lost generation who are not working and who do not go to school. We could call in more police, but should also work in depth. Also for Brussels, an important task has been set aside."
Hate the police
After the police killed a gang member from Sint-Gillis, the youth hate the police more than ever. "We'll turn this into Chicago."
"Yesterday it was somebody from our neighborhood, today it's my pal, tomorrow, it's maybe my turn. The police began a war by killing one of us. They draw their weapons and begin to shoot for nothing. Now there are no weapons here, tomorrow everybody in this neighborhood can have a Kalashnikov. And what will happen then?"
In the shadowy corner of the "Bethlehem Square", a square down from the famous Hallepoort, a group of immigrant youth hangs around. At the first question they play deaf. After some insistence, they agree to answers, though without giving their names.
The aggressive statements of the young man clash with the calm radiating from the rest of the square. There's little to show the riots of last night. Several municipality workers dump sand on one side of the triangular square, in order to blot out the oil which was poured there. Young families try to pick up some spring sun, there's terraces on one side of the squire.
The group of youth stand as one behind the killed gang-member. They they don't shun harsh language and exaggerations. In order to make their point clear, they give their fantasy free reign. "You know how old the boy that they murdered was? 17 years old. His brother sat next to him, he was 29. They didn't have any weapon with them. They were normal boys from the neighborhood here. And you tell us, how can you be a serious bandit if you're 17 years old?"
The Nijvel court definitely contradicts this story. The man on whom the agent opened fire was born in 1981, his friend in 1989. The gang members, who were wanted for violent raids on casinos in Brussels, were not family members.
The youth in the Bethlehem square identity without difficulties with their martyrs. The most talkative of the group, a boy of about 20, with a beard, cap and sports=shoes, has had enough of 'everybody seeing us as bad guys'.
"We are not the problem. We've had enough of the police, which provokes us by killing innocents. These were people with brothers, sisters and parents. They've raised their sons well for years, and now they've been murdered by the cops. I'll walk with you through the whole neighborhood to look for somebody who's had a problem with them, you won't find anybody."
Just like with the riots in Kuregem, the security bodies are the targets. The riots in Sint-Gillis began with an attack on the local police commissioner's office and on a police patrol car.
"We really do have respect for authority," the young man continues. "Judges, police, even agents, we have no problems with them, as long as they respect us and work correctly. Only, if they continue doing as they do now, and shoot without reason, tomorrow anybody might be a victim."
"And than we'll turn this into Chicago," another adds. "And it will be the police's turn." [ie, we'll take care of them]
Is it coincidence that the riots broke out during a vacation period, when the youth have little to do? "Why should we be bored here?," answers the spokesperson of the group. "The police provoked us. That's why we came out to the streets."
Minister Turtelboom wants to calm the flames by putting more police on the street, more jobs and beter education. Does school mean something to these boys? "Why? Are you a cop perhaps?"
Sources: HLN 1, 2, 3, 4, De Standaard 1, 2, 3, De Morgen (Dutch)