Rotterdam police release video in response to criticism over housing protest clashes
Rotterdam police chief Fred Westerbeke released drone footage of riot police officers clashing with demonstrators during a housing protest in the city on October 17. He hopes the video footage will give context to short clips shared on social media accusing the police of excessive force, Westerbeke said following criticism. "That is inappropriate, especially for politicians and the media."
"In no time at all, the impression arose that the police had used excessive force for no reason. The danger lies in that these clips provide no context but provide a frame and judgment based on assumptions. To blindly accept these images as 'complete' is unjustified and shows little respect," Westerbeke said
"Trial by (social) media," Westerbeke said. "Once you see a video, you can, of course, think anything about it. However, it would be good for everyone first to ask questions and form a good picture before posting that initial response on social media."
According to the police, the demonstration with some 7,000 protesters on Afrikanerplein started well. "However, we quickly spotted about 40 to 50 people who behaved and were dressed conspicuously," Westerbeke said. According to him, they were wearing face-covering clothing and shouting anti-police slogans - which matched the description of a group that clashed with police at the Amsterdam housing protest the month before.
Once the march started, the suspicious group grew and continued to act oddly, the police said. The riot police decided to isolate this group and check their identity at the Erasmus bridge. A space was left for other protesters to pass and keep on their way. But the procession came to a halt, with a smaller part refusing to follow the police instructions to move along, the police said.
This is where the clash with the police happened and the footage the police published. The video shows riot police officers keeping the group separate from the rest of the protesters. It also shows protesters walking past the boxed-in group but others remaining behind. The situation escalated when a wooden house on wheels was pushed into the riot police officers from behind. "A kind of battering ram that had to help in an ultimate escape attempt," according to Westerbeke.
The group inside tried to bust out, but the police managed to keep them contained. But the "provocation from the small group of demonstrators outside the group" did not end there. For minutes they tried to push the house onto a police bus. According to Westerbeke, the video shows that the police deliberately did not intervene to get the protest moving as quickly as possible. "However, the protesters did not respond to this, and we had to confiscate the house." The police decided to move the isolated group to another location and check their identities there, after which calm returned. Ultimately, the police arrested nine people for insult, sedition, and illegal weapons possession.
"My colleagues are never out for a 'fight,'" Westerbeke said. "Unfortunately, we cannot escape the occasional use of force to restore order. But that is always only when a situation arises in which the environment, the demonstrators, or the police are in danger. We take our task in such a demonstration very seriously. It would be nice if there were a little more respect during and after such a deployment."