Dutch police accused of brutality after video of Rotterdam arrest

Dutch police
A sign hanging in front of a Dutch police post. April 30, 2006Photo: M.M.Minderhoud via Michiel1972Wikimedia CommonsCC-BY-SA

A video that surfaced online showing the arrest of a woman on Stahduisplein in Rotterdam early this month, resulted in accusations of police brutality on social media. The police point out that such videos often don't give any context - they don't show what happened beforehand, NOS reports.

The video shows a 25-year-old woman being pushed around and punched by police officers, before being handcuffed, while shocked onlookers shout at the officers.


The woman interfered with the arrest of her 27-year-old boyfriend, the police said in a reaction to the video, according to RTV Rijnmond. The police said that the woman got into a fight with a bathroom attendant during a night out on Stadhuisplein. A bouncer saw what happened, and pulled the woman outside. She punched and kicked him, among other things. Her boyfriend threw a chair at the bouncer and tried to put him in a chokehold. Once they were outside, the police were called in. When officers tried to arrest the man, the woman tried to stop them. According to the police, the officer had to use the violence shown in the video to get the woman under control.

Witnesses said to RTV Rijnmond that the force used by the police went way too far. "This is simply abuse of power. [The police officer] could have easily put her in cuffs", one witness said to the broadcaster.

The video led to great indignation on social media, with many accusations of police brutality. This often happens after videos surface in which the police use violence, such as during an arrest in Waddinxveen in February after which the detainee died, and the arrest of three teenagers in Tilburg in November. 

Several police organizations told NOS that the problem with these type of videos, is that they don't show context. People tend to only start filming after a situation is already out of hand, which means that the circumstances that led to that point are not shown. The videos posted online are often not a representation of the entire incident, police spokesperson Lisette van Bale said to the broadcaster. The police want to give the missing context, but that is not always possible, or it takes time. "We look at the whole context of the situation and talk to the officers, eyewitnesses and possible victims. Carefulness is always paramount to us."

Jair Schalkwijk of Control Alt Delete, an organization that tries to map violence and ethnic profiling by the police, agrees that context is often hard to find. He stresses that it is important to film interactions with the police, but start before a situation gets out of hand. "In the first instance you should film to gather evidence of the interaction. Not to make a sensational film that you can throw onto social media without context", he said to NOS. A good way to create context, is to have several people filming at the same time. 

According to Schalkwijk, video footage can be crucial evidence nowadays. He refers to the death of Mitch Henriquez. "In a press release the Public Prosecutor stated that he became unwell in the police van. After that a video by a bystander appeared online showing that the man was hoisted unconscious into the van." Two officers involved in that arrest were eventually given suspended prison sentences. "You might wonder what would have happened if the video had not been there", Schalkwijk said to the broadcaster. 

People are always shocked when confronted by police officers using violence, and that is something that we have to get used to as a society, police scientist Jaap Timmer said to NOS. "Things sometimes escalate, and officers are simply authorized to use violence to carry out their duties. That never looks nice."

Police figures show that there were 142 disciplinary investigations against officers for the use of violence last year, according to NOS. That is about 1 percent of the total number of times that the police used force. Data NOS requested showed that damage claims submitted to the police are relatively often related to police officers using force. Between 2013 and mid last year, 497 such claims were filed. Only police raids on buildings resulted in more claims, according to the broadcaster. 


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