Staphorst city council denounces violent blocking of anti-blackface protest
The Staphorst city council released a statement denouncing how men in blackface makeup violently blocked Kick Out Zwarte Piet (KOZP) protesters from reaching their pre-approved demonstration at the Sinterklaas arrival party in the municipality on Saturday. Impeding others from exercising their right to demonstrate and taking the law into your own hands “does not fit in a democratic constitutional state, and we as the Staphorst city council strongly disapprove of that.”
The Netherlands’ democratic constitutional state is “a great asset,” the city council said. “That means freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate. Those freedoms were violated on Saturday with violence and intimidation.” The city council called it “good” that the mayor announced an investigation.
“Let it be a clear message to all of us: You must never silence the other person with violence and intimidation,” the Staphorst city council said.
The rioters surrounded cars with KOZP demonstrators and Amnesty International observers on the A28 offramp to prevent them from reaching the demonstration at the Sinterklaas arrival party. They held lit flares against the cars’ windows, pelted them with things, and slashed one car’s tires. It had the effect they were hoping for. The mayor of Staphorst decided to ban the demonstration.
Clash between Justice Minister and MP
The matter led to a clash between Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgöz and BIJ1 parliamentarian Sylvana Simons on Tuesday. Yesilgöz said it is up to the police and mayors to determine how they deal with demonstrations, and the national government should not get involved. Simons was disturbed by that. According to her, these demonstrators have been confronted with violence on a regular basis for ten years, “either by the police themselves or by bystanders facilitated by the police who do nothing.”
Simons could not imagine that after a decade of incidents, the Minister would first want to find out what happened in Staphorst. She called the Minister “hard of learning” and demanded a broad independent investigation into the police. “It has been said very often in this room that I was allegedly irritated, and now I am, chairman, now I am irritated,” the BIJ1 leader said.
Yesilgöz dismissed Simons’ accusations. “I will not let 60,000 people who work day and night for our safety be dismissed as a bunch of racists. Hell no,” the Minister defended her police officers. Simons wanted to respond, but Tweede Kamer chairman Vera Bergkamp turned off her microphone, after which the BIJ1 MP left the Kamer.
D66, GroenLiks, PvdD, PvdA, DENK, and ChristenUnie also had questions about the police’s actions, or lack thereof, in Staphorst. FvD referred to Amnesty International’s recent criticism of the right to demonstrate in the Netherlands.
No investigation by Justice Inspectorate yet
According to Amnesty International, the police did not deploy enough officers to escort the protestors to their demonstration and protect them once there, despite KOZP asking for additional security due to threats and previous experiences.
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 Justice and Security Inspectorate sees no reason to investigate how the police deal with demonstrators after the Staphorst incident, pointing out that the police have launched an internal investigation. The municipality also announced an independent investigation.
The Justice and Security Inspectorate will look at the police’s findings. “If things remain unanswered, we will see if we think more is needed,” a spokesperson said.
KOZP considering next steps
KOZP foreman Jerry Afriyie said when asked that the organization is making an inventory of how many declarations are and have been made. The reports will be about threats and vandalism, like the charges Amnesty International pressed.
“We will do everything we can to get the right to protest back that they took from us that day through other avenues that are now available to us,” Afriyie said. According to him, “all options” are on the table, including going to the Ombudsman. That requires a lot of preliminary work, he said. “Our faith in the protection of the government has decreased due to the structural abuses. We continue to appeal to the right to protest.”