A'dam police chief 'surprised' by quick growth of BLM protest; Police knew it would be big, sources say

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

Amsterdam police chief Frank Paauw was surprised by the rapid increase in the number of demonstrators protesting against racist police brutality on Dam Square on Monday, he said on television program Op1. But police sources told NOS that the police knew the protest would be crowded hours before it started.

Like Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema, Pauw said that a wrong estimate was made about the number of people who came to demonstrate, a mistake that was also made at a halted Black Lives Matter demonstration in Rotterdam on Wednesday, he said. The large number of protesters made it impossible to maintain social distancing on Dam Square on Monday and the Erasmus Bridge on Wednesday.

The organizers of the demonstration said that around 250 or 300 people would participate. "Our experience shows that an average organizer on average gives a number that is too high rather than too low," Paauw said. "In addition we used our own informants and networks, and did a survey on social media. This intelligence method estimated that the number could reach a maximum of one thousand. We also crossed Dam Square off for that." Around 5 thousand people eventually showed up. 

According to NOS' sources, despite the police expecting in advance that up to a thousand protesters would show up, police officers in the Amsterdam city center were told that there would be a small demonstration on Dam Square with about 250 participants.

Paauw said that he will evaluate how the police's intelligence method can be adjusted. "Apparently, we are missing a part of the radar that normally works well." The Rotterdam protest also being much larger than expected shows that, he said. He believes there were three reasons why the Amsterdam protest was so big: "The demonstration had a high sentiment that was sparked by images from the United States all weekend, the intelligent lockdown had just ended and it was Whit Monday with nice weather. The square filled up within half an hour."

When asked why the police did not intervene when the square became so crowded, Paauw said: "Our concern was rather that there was a light flammability in this demonstration. If the police had not behaved properly, things could get out of hand. The police should not be the fuse in the powder keg. That is no reason not to act, but the focus was on the task of making sure the demonstration went smoothly. Once we took that path, we couldn't do much else."