Rotterdam BLM protest halted after thousands show up on Erasmus Bridge

Thousands of people gather on and along the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam for a Black Lives Matter protest. June 3, 2020
Thousands of people gather on and along the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam for a Black Lives Matter protest. June 3, 2020Rami AloutaSupplied to NL Times

A day after demonstrators protesting against police violence and racism were praised for maintaining social distance even in large crowds, a similar protest of several thousand people in Rotterdam on Wednesday evening was ordered to conclude because attendees were not maintaining a minimum distance of 1.5 meters. The organizers of the event had repeatedly asked participants to do this in social media posts throughout the day, including during the protest.

The decision to break up the protest was made by Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb in tandem with the local districts of the Public Prosecution Service and the police, dubbed a "triangle" by the government. "The triangle has decided to end the demonstration at the Erasmus Bridge because it is too busy. The triangle appeals to everyone to go home, and thanks everyone for coming," the city said on social media.

Many disagreed with the decision, saying that despite how the crowd looked from afar and through long-distance camera lenses, in reality many people were maintaining a safe physical distance from each other. Caitlin Schaap told broadcater NOS that any unrest was caused by the event being ended about 15 minutes early by authorities, and had they been allowed to finish people would have left on their own without issue.

By 6 p.m., the police had begun trying to break up the protest, after first preventing new entrants onto the bridge and closing the tram line that runs across it. "Do not come to the demonstration at the Erasmus Bridge . Let's keep 1.5 meters away together," the police said on Twitter.

Two hours later, police acknowledged there was some property damage, including broken windows, fences, and terrace chairs. Video circulating on social media also showed a minor clash between a few demonstrators and police at the northeastern end of the Erasmus Bridge.

A social media account for Black Lives Matter in the Netherlands said it was disappointing that the peaceful event had to come to an end, "But please go home quietly now. Be careful of each other and do not be provoked!" A similarly-sized demonstration in Amsterdam on Monday led to a large amount of criticism because the event was allowed to continue even as crowds swelled. Another group of about two thousand gathered in The Hague on Tuesday, largely standing at a safe distance from one another.

The third day of protesting in the Netherlands included the event on the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam. The protests follow hours after the city's mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb moved the venue to a larger area to ensure social distancing, warning of a heavy police presence at the scene.

While estimates in local media suggest that between 4,000 and 5,000 demonstrators showed up to the protest, the police told NL Times that the number could not be confirmed, pointing out that their main concern has been ensuring social distancing among the protestors by using drones and by issuing an NL Alert. "We're telling people to keep their distance. That's our main business right now," a police spokesperson confirmed.

Rotterdam's protest marks fourth to be held in the Netherlands to show solidarity for the people protesting anti-black violence in the United States following George Floyd's death in police custody last week. On Monday, a protest in Amsterdam drew some 5,000 people, who crowded Dam Square without adhering to social distancing measures, resulting in new criticism aimed at the city's mayor, Femke Halsema. On Tuesday, two more protests formed in The Hague and Groningen drawing thousands of people while maintaining social distancing.

The protest was initially set to be held on Schouburgplein, but Aboutaleb said that the square could not hold more than 80 people keeping 1.5 meters apart, moving the venue to Erasmus Bridge instead. "In this place we can receive up to a few thousand people. If there's more, we will have to stand by the routes to send people away," the mayor previously said.

Another demonstration was scheduled to take place in Utrecht on Friday evening.

Thousands of people gather on and along the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam for a Black Lives Matter protest. June 3, 2020
Thousands of people gather on and along the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam for a Black Lives Matter protest. June 3, 2020Rami AloutaSupplied to NL Times

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