Police ignored anti-Zwarte Piet protesters during highway blockade, activist says

Kick Out Zwarte Piet blocked from protesting racism in Friesland Netherlands on Sinterklaas
The A7 highway blocked near Heerenveen by about 35 people refusing to let groups of people pass through to protest Zwarte Piet, blackface and racism at the Sinterklaas arrival in Dokkum, Friesland. 18 Nov. 2017photo: "Otto" / Kick Out Zwarte Piet

The police officers that responded to a blockade on the A7 that prevented two buses of anti-Zwarte Piet protesters reaching the national Sinterklaas arrival in Dokkum last year, completely ignored the protesters on the buses and talked in a friendly way with the people blocking the highway, Jerry Afriyie of action group Kick Out Zwarte Piet said in court on Thursday, RTL Nieuws reports.

"The officers looked right through us", Afriyie said. He used his right as a victim to speak at the trial against the 34 people suspected of the blockade. They are charged with preventing a legal demonstration and causing a dangerous situation.

"We want to make a counter-sound, that's why we go to the arrival every year", Afriyie said in court. He realizes that their struggle for equal opportunities and equal rights for all Dutch people "does not make us loved by everyone", he said. "I hear every day: fuck off to your own country. But this is my country too."

The people on the bus were "very affected by the brutal behavior" of the suspects, their lawyer said. "The action was simply aggressive, irresponsible and threatening", the lawyer said. He pointed out that none of the suspects expressed regret during the trial. "No one shows any realization of the fear they caused."

Activist Mitchell Esajas, who also used his right as victim to speak, called the incident on the highway "one of the most frightening moments" in his life. "Men got out of their cars with clenched fists and stormed the bus. We were afraid they would attack us on the bus."

As compensation the activists want the suspects to participate in workshops, including a lesson about the history of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet. They hope that the workshops, which will take one day, will create more mutual understanding.

The 34 suspects all deny that they were the first to stop on the highway, and that they initiated the highway blockade. According to them, they did not know in advance what would happen, although they talked about it on Facebook and WhatsApp. They said they went to the A7 out of curiosity and ended up in a group of stationary cars by chance.

The trial against the 34 suspects started on Monday. The Public Prosecutor is expected to demand sentences against them today. Earlier this week a "fake news" post about this trial was widely shared on Facebook, saying that the suspects had already been sentenced to prison.