Media silence and police arrests: Dutch strategies against peaceful protest

Zwarte Piet is racism.
Zwarte Piet is racism.

In 2016 Doorbraak activist Jennifer van Leijen initiated a campaign to stop the Dutch government from subsidizing blackface (Zwarte Piet or Black Pete) on children’s television. More than 12.000 people already signed. Van Leijen regularly writes updates. Here is number 14 (also read numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6/7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13).

After one of my last updates, a reader of that update commented that he did not believe what I had written about the Dutch police: the reader couldn’t believe that the Dutch police had not arrested, or asked for the identification of the people who had illegally created a motorway blockade, a blockade created to stop anti-discrimination protesters from arriving at the location where they were going to demonstrate. It was hard for the commenter to believe that the Dutch police would not only behave so incompetently in the face of an overtly criminal act, but also in such an openly dishonest way, their actions obviously thwarting the anti-discrimination protesters ability to make their protest, whilst letting the illegal blokkaders simply drive away unpunished.

Earlier this week, it became clear that what I had said was true: the police issued a public appeal, requesting to the people who had created the illegal blockade in November 2017 to report themselves to the police station. The police had taken photographs of 31 people involved in the blokkade but only 18 of them reported themselves to the police. The Dutch police are continuing to look for the other 13 blokkaders. The Dutch police have betrayed the trust and confidence that citizens, like that unbelieving reader of my update, bestow upon them.

But it’s not only the police, it’s also journalists and the media that the Dutch misguidedly believe. A few days ago, a US ambassador to the Netherlands was harangued by Dutch journalists because he refused to answer specific questions. One Dutch journalist sanctimoniously remarked “This is the Netherlands, you have to answer questions”. This jingoistic moral superiority irritates me in the light of the bleak reality.

What did that journalist do when a Dutch newspaper, the Algemeen Dagblad (AD), suggested that from mid November to the 5th of December the media should totally refrain from discussing the issue of racist discrimination ensuing from the Sinterklaas tradition: that is, discussing the presence of the racist caricatures called Zwarte Pieten. The AD even gave a name to this concept of voluntary censorship: het Sinterklaasbestand. The AD effectively suggested that the media should censor itself, and omit reporting the news: that is, the mention of anti-discrimination protest! The fact is, a Sinterklaasbestand not only prevents true reporting of anti-discrimination protest, but also effectively prolongs the existence of that very discrimination. It serves as an indictment of the media, that this suggestion was made and accepted. Even the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, lent his support to the concept of a Sinterklaasbestand!

Thus, when it comes to racism, and especially the issue of our national racist blackface caricature Zwarte Piet, the Dutch media, in general, don’t want to discuss it at all, let alone ask pertinent questions, and the police frustrate the efforts of anti-discrimination protest with impunity. This is an issue which repeats itself year after year. In 2014 for example, I was arrested in Gouda, for simply standing there in silence. The police later admitted that they were concerned about and arrested people who had a dark skin colour, and or who were dressed in a left-wing fashion. I kid you not! The media did not make a fuss about this statement. In the UK or the US, the police would have been mercilessly called to account for this overt ethnic and political profiling, and resignations would have been called for. Racism in the police force should be taken seriously, after all.

The Dutch police have made a habit of these patterns of arrest. It’s easy, because according to Dutch law, as long as somebody is released within a number of hours, the police don’t have to compensate the arrested/detained. It means that the police can use arrests as a means of stifling protest. The police will also arrest people before they are able to demonstrate, and will release them after the event to be protested at, is over. It’s a breach of the fundamental human right to protest/freedom of speech.

A few days ago, on January 9th 2018, the public prosecution system in the Netherlands announced that they would take no further action against 168 anti-discrimination protesters that had been arrested in Rotterdam in November 2016. The police had, in fact, arrested 200 anti-discrimination protesters after the coaches transporting the protesters had stopped in Rotterdam. Some arrestees had been waiting, in Rotterdam, to board the coach but when the coaches arrived the police attempted to also arrest protesters who had been in the coach too. The anti-discrimination protesters were arrested before they had a chance to arrive at the destination in which they wished to demonstrate! The police were aggressive and unreceptive, so much so, that the police even detained a lawyer, Michiel Pestman, despite his protests. Michiel Pestman had been called by his client, Jerry Afriyie (anti-discrimination activist), because it became clear that the police were (again) going to prevent a peaceful demonstration from occurring. In their eagerness to prevent an anti-discrimination protest, the police also arrested unwitting passers-by, who had merely stopped out of sheer curiosity to ask the anti-discrimination protesters what had happened (because it was unclear why the police were there).

Jerry Afriyie has since reported that his case is ongoing, and there are 31 other arrestees whom presumably will also face prosecution. Where were the critical questions from the media about these 32 innocent people? Thank you all for listening, and taking action by signing this petition. Together we will try to eradicate a great social injustice in the Netherlands, I will continue to keep you informed of developments.

Jennifer van Leijen