'Unacceptable' George Floyd death doesn't excuse 'irresponsible' protests: Rutte

Thousands in Amsterdam turn out in support of Black Lives Matter after the death of George Floyd in America. June 1, 2020
Thousands in Amsterdam turn out in support of Black Lives Matter after the death of George Floyd in America. June 1, 2020NL Times / Byron MühlbergNL Times

Both the inexcusable nature of George Floyd's death and the "irresponsible" nature of mass gatherings in the Netherlands that followed in its wake can both be acknowledged at once, Prime Minister Mark Rutte asserted on Friday during a press conference, in which he announced an easing of restrictions for European tourism. "The images from the US are very intense. What happened there is unacceptable, but it is not only in the United States. Here too, people feel that they are not part of the dream and do not fully count," Rutte said.

The comments mark the Prime Minister's first public statement on the issue following four mass protests across major Dutch cities this week in reaction to the death of an unarmed black American at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota. Rutte pointed out his belief that, while Floyd's death was "unacceptable", it nevertheless did not justify ignoring the social distancing rules in place to curb the spread of Covid-19.

"I was shocked by the images on the Dam," Rutte said of Monday's protest in Amsterdam, which drew a packed crowd of about five thousand people. "Those rules are there so that we can defeat the virus. The virus does not take into account the nature of a demonstration," he said

"Look back to Monday evening in Amsterdam. In the Netherlands there is a right to demonstrate; an important right in our democracy. But there is also the obligation to stick to the one-and-a half meter measure. And they can go together if we take the sensible approach," Rutte said.

"And you should be convinced that the death of George Floyd is unacceptable and that the demonstration on Dam Square in this form was irresponsible," he added. He also praised the better spaced demonstrations in Groningen and The Hague, and asserted that he is fully opposed to a ban on protests as a consequence of the ongoing health crisis.

"Everyone who resides here within the law must be able to become whomever he or she wants to be. Here, too, is racism. Here too is discrimination," Rutte said. "I immediately understand everyone in the Netherlands who has seen the images, and who recognizes the systemic problems and wants to protest. But there is a pandemic going on in the Netherlands and around the world. Keeping distance is also the responsibility of protesters."

The Prime Minister declined to comment on Wednesday evening's protest in Rotterdam, which saw thousands of demonstrators forced to leave the scene of the protest after the crowd grew too large.

Black Lives Matter protesters, anguished at ongoing police brutality, have so far staged four demonstrations in the Netherlands this 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.

"We as a society must collectively adhere to the distance rules, and so we must also collectively speak out against racism," Rutte said.