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Accusations of 'institutional racism' in Brussels-Midi police zone

08:52 18/01/2024

Political parties Ecolo, Les Engagés and PS are denouncing what they describe as the “institutional racism” of the Brussels-Midi police force following an investigative report from RTBF.

The report revealed acts of police violence committed in a Brussels police station in 2020, which sparked a debate this week at a Brussels-Midi police council meeting.

Citizens, along with members of Ecolo-Groen, PS and Les Engagés sought to clarify the context of these acts.

“What all these cases have in common – the tragic death of young Adil, policewomen wandering around Cureghem treating residents like macaques, a police officer receiving a collective complaint from his colleagues for racist remarks, and this recent revelation of beatings – is that none of the officers involved has been dismissed,” said Sofia Bennani (Les Engagés).

A citizens’ petition referred to a “culture of impunity and racism within the police force” and urged members of the local council to “assume their responsibilities” and bring a civil action against one of the officers identified in the investigation.

Footage from RTBF’s investigation, taken on 31 May 2020, shows an Anderlecht police officer beating up two people who had been arrested a few hours apart.

At the time, the officer received a disciplinary sanction and a fine. At the judicial level, the prosecutor's office opened an investigation, but the French-speaking court of first instance of Brussels decided to suspend the verdict.

“The fact that the videos of these acts of violence were not passed on to the municipal council when the sanctions were imposed gives us serious cause for concern about its ability to exercise democratic control,” members of the three parties said.

Ecolo-Groen, PS and Les Engagés unanimously stressed the urgent need for in-depth reform of the police services to ensure the safety of all citizens to the three mayors concerned, namely Jean Spinette (Saint-Gilles), Mariam El Hamidine (Forest) and Fabrice Cumps (Anderlecht), as well as the chief of police, Jurgen De Landsheer.

Les Engagés also proposed setting up an external committee of enquiry to look into the incidents, suggesting a revision of the current training given to police officers to include modules on anti-racism and the rights of undocumented migrants.

PS additionally stressed the need for swift sanctions on the one hand and protection of whistleblowers within the police on the other.

Police chief De Landsheer said he “takes the various demands seriously” and admitted that “there is still a long way to go”.

Written by Helen Lyons