Not enough cops at Staphorst anti-blackface protest, despite threats: Amnesty Intl.
The police deployed too few officers to the Kick Out Zwarte Piet (KOZP) demonstration in Staphorst on Saturday, despite the protesters asking for extra protection given previous experiences and showing the police threats made against them, Amnesty International told NU.nl. The demonstrators were confronted by a crowd of angry men in blackface makeup, harassed, and attacked. The municipality eventually canceled their demonstration.
Amnesty International attended the protest as an observer at KOZP’s request. “There was not enough police for the size of the hostile crowd that wanted to prevent the demonstration,” a spokesperson for the human rights organization said to the newspaper. “But there were also not enough officers in the run-up to the demonstration to guide the demonstrators safely to their location.”
KOZP asked the police for an escort three days before the demonstration in Staphorst following countless online threats and hate messages. “Bring it on just like before. Chains around the ankles and hanging behind the car. Bald to the bone,” read one message KOZP received after announcing the Staphorst demonstration. Another Facebook user responded: “It’s great that they’re announcing that they will demonstrate there. Ideal for the brawl teams!”
KOZP showed these messages to the police as proof of why they needed extra protection, Marisella de Cuba said to NU.nl as a spokesperson for the anti-racism action group. “After we sent this message, we entered into discussions with the police and the municipality. Based on these hate messages and our previous experiences at demonstrations, we asked for cameras on location. But also for protection on the road, so we could arrive safely on location.”
The police deployed two unrecognizable cars to drive in front and behind the column of nine KOZP and Amnesty International vehicles on the way to the protest. To “prevent or circumvent any blockades,” the police said in a retrospective on Monday. “Unfortunately, several demonstrators and observers became detached from the column and encountered rioters at the bottom of the A28 exit.”
Angry men in blackface makeup surrounded the cars, holding lit flares to their windows and throwing things at them. The police did not intervene, only leading the other protesters to a nearby gas station because the police could no longer guarantee their safety. No one was arrested.
“We called the municipality to ask what was going on when it turned out that they banned our demonstration,” De Cuba said to the newspaper. “They hung up. The police and municipality left us to our fate.”
“We were no longer able to see our demonstrators,” De Cuba said. “They later told us that they were terrified when an angry crowd attacked them from the side roads.”
On Saturday, a police spokesperson told NRC that the two-vehicle escort was not intended as protection “but to ensure that the activists could drive into Staphorst at the same time.” NU.nl reached out to the police on this matter but got no response.
Police scientist Jaap Timmer of the VU Amsterdam told NU.nl that the police and mayor should have been better prepared for this escalation. “We have known since Gouda in 2014, and then Zaandam, Apeldoorn, and the Friesland highway blockades that this is a sensitive and complicated file. Now the police are showing for the umpteenth time that the right to demonstrate apparently does not apply to everyone.”
The police and the municipality of Staphorst both launched investigations into their own actions around this debacle.
Amnesty International filed charges of threats and vandalism. KOZP is considering doing the same.