Brussels. Belgium. On Sunday, January 24, 2021, a rally was held on Albertine Square in Brussels to denounce racism and the class character of the Belgian justice system. A similar action had been banned by the Mayor of Brussels on December 5, 2020. Although this time the rally was not outright banned, it was not allowed either. The political authorities and the police were therefore free to repress the event whenever they felt like it.
Under these conditions, and in consultation with them, the presence of the families of victims of police violence and killings, as well as many others, was no longer possible. The risk was too high, so they did not take part as initially planned. In this respect, state authorities, at all levels, have succeeded in their coup: once again closing the public space to families. If proof of the fundamentally racist nature of the police institution and the entire political apparatus that supports it was still needed, this is it. A despicable situation, where taking the life of a son or daughter is not enough. The state must still deploy everything it is capable of to repress them in order to try to silence them and put them under house arrest.
As soon as the rally started, the tension was palpable. While an agreement was made with the police officers of the city of Brussels who supervised the demonstration to tolerate it for 45 minutes, the federal reinforcements told us to leave the premises immediately, under the pretext that the rally was simply banned. Astonished, the different police forces present did not agree on a common approach.
During the entire period of the speeches, the police surrounded the square. Its presence was massive and ostentatious. Its members were already dressed in full riot gear, ready to intervene. The first incidents had already taken place: several young people were harshly controlled around the place, whose only “crime” was clearly to be the racialized undesirables in public space. In fact, information has been confirmed that the police were preventing people from joining the rally.
It would last the 45 minutes granted by the police, not one more. As time went by, the police came closer, the ring got smaller. You have to leave the square immediately. Most of the people present move away, others linger for a few moments, some of them to respond to media inquiries. Suddenly, the tilting. From the street, police officers, this time with shields and batons, arrive on the spot and shut down the road. The number of police officers on the scene explodes. They are already shouting, charging, pushing and arresting people in the surrounding streets. Their aggressiveness is simply staggering, almost paralyzing.
Pretty fast, at the end of the square and in the direction of the Central Station, a face-to-face confrontation took place between the police and participants in the rally, mainly young people, some of whom had courageously and brilliantly spoken a few minutes earlier. They were surrounded, outnumbered by police officers who used dogs and tear gas on a massive scale. In the ensuing chaos, the police once again put one of the protesters in life-threatening danger: a law enforcement vehicle accelerates sharply towards the small crowd and hits a teenager, who falls to the ground before getting up and leaving.
A few minutes later, all these people are kettled around the Central Station. There are about fifty of them. Some of them are on the ground, stopped, surrounded by dozens and dozens of cops, under the constant threat of water canons. They are gradually taken away in police vans to the police barracks. A very young crowd, mostly non-white people.
In the end, in response to a rally of just over 150 people, massive forces were deployed, using incredible force and violence: federal and regional police reinforcements from almost all over the country, motorcycles, horses, dozens of vehicles, six water canons, and a helicopter. All those present will be able to attest to the fact that the police are solely responsible for the disturbances that took place in the afternoon. In their statement, the police demonstrated this themselves when their spokesperson acknowledged that “the demonstration took place in a calm atmosphere”. Indeed, until the police decided otherwise and made more than a hundred arrests in total.
Finally, on the way home, we learn that a Rise for Climate action was being held at Luxembourg Square, in a peaceful atmosphere under the eye of a small police presence. It is of course a pleasure to see that these people were able to hold their rally in such conditions. But what a contrast with what happened a few hundred meters away. In this country, certain uses of democratic freedoms are not tolerated, certain messages are not good to spread. Demanding truth and justice for the victims of police killings is one of them. Demanding an end to racism, sexism and classism from the police and the judiciary too. To all individuals and political organizations who condemn and support the repression against such rallies, and say nothing about the systematic and permanent inhuman violence against oppressed social classes: Stop speaking out on democracy, freedom, equality or human dignity forever, because they are just empty words to you. You simply do not qualify to speak out.
The police humiliate, mutilate, rape, kill. When people unite to denounce it, the police again humiliate, mutilate, violate and threaten to kill. One day, however, there will be more of us on the street than them. That day will be a beautiful day.
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