Amsterdam's handling of BLM protest was "sloppy": Investigation
The decision-making around the Black Lives Matter protest on Dam Square in Amsterdam on June 1 was "sloppy" and the Amsterdam triangle of mayor, police and prosecutor did not function properly as a consultative body, was the conclusions of an independent investigation commissioned by Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema, NU.nl and AT5 report.
According to the researchers, the sloppy process is demonstrated by the fact that the Amsterdam authorities had to discuss afterwards how the decisions were made. "The demonstration gave rise to a degree of improvisation at the administrative level that should be unnecessary and led to sloppiness," the researchers wrote. Communication via WhatsApp also led to a lack of clarity about who was involved in which decision, they concluded.
The Amsterdam authorities approved the Black Lives Matters demonstration on Dam Square assuming that around 250 people would participate. That was not a realistic estimate, Halsema said later. Thousands of demonstrators gathered on the square, making adhering to social distancing and other coronavirus rules impossible.
Even on the morning of the event, organizers said they believed there would be 200-300 people in attendance, but district police officers thought 800 was a more likely sum. By that point, 1,100 had said on Facebook they would attend, with 3,400 others saying they were interested.
“In the fifteen minutes before the official start of the demonstration [at 5:00 p.m.], the number of demonstrators grew very fast. The police officers present had never seen such a rapid increase in such a short time,” the researchers said in their report.
By 5:49 p.m., more than 5 thousand were present. Internal police estimates pegged the peak number of protesters at between 10 thousand and 14 thousand.
“The crowds were unforeseen, so too few officers were present or available to respond quickly and appropriately to intervene,” the researchers said. That was the case even when it became clear that the Dam Square area was unable to allow for 1.5 meters distance between protesters.
The triangle of mayor, police and prosecutor decided not to end the demonstration prematurely, fearing that this would escalate matters. The decision to let the process continue in the coronavirus crisis was widely criticized at the time.
In a response to AT5, mayor Halsema expressed regret for the situation that could so easily have been the origin of a health risk. "The report clearly describes how, in retrospect, it turned out that the number of participants was wrongly estimated and how it continued to have an impact during and after the demonstration."
Halsema said that the city authorities struggled to find the balance between the number of demonstrators, the strong emotions elicited by the death of George Floyd due to police brutality, the possibility of disturbances to public order, and the inherent health risks of having large gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.
She said the city would learn from these errors and create a more professional response to similar situations in the future. Specifically, Halsema pointed out the possible need for a better method for police to share gathered information with the municipal and regional governments, and also an improved decision making-process in the triangle.
"Demonstrating in corona times remains a challenge, but also in difficult times an essential fundamental right," Halsema said.