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France riots: Brussels police and mayor under fire for 'preventative' arrests of teenagers
Brussels mayor Philippe Close and the capital’s police force have come under fire for defending the administrative arrests of schoolchildren in the aftermath of recent rioting in France.
Riots erupted in France following the death of Nahel, a 17-year-old boy from Nanterre who was shot dead by a French police officer.
Some of the unrest even reached Belgium, with tensions surfacing in both Brussels and Liège.
Brussels police were prepared and were able to intervene before serious incidents occurred, detaining 64 people over the course of last Thursday night and preventatively detaining another 200.
The preventative arrests are being viewed as unusual, but human rights activist and police violence expert Yassine Boubout explained that they are legal.
“By law, the police can arrest people preventatively if they suspect that someone may pose a danger to public order or be about to commit a crime,” Boubout said.
"However, that arrest must be absolutely necessary, especially in the case of young people, which is even more strictly regulated.
"The problem is, however, that you cause a lot of collateral damage with that technique: young people are wrongly arrested even though they have nothing to do with those riots.
"Often they are minors, even more often young people with a migration background. Obviously, that is throwing oil on the fire."
Zo zagen die arrestaties van minderjarigen dus uit in Brussel. Tieners die op een bankje zaten werden brutaal opgepakt. Preventief zoals de Brusselse politie dat noemt. #minorityreport (bron fb) pic.twitter.com/Y978PaTTEH— christophecallewaert (@chrcallewaert) July 1, 2023
Human rights lawyer Alexis Deswaef agreed: "It’s always young people from certain neighbourhoods, always young people with a certain skin colour who are targeted.
"The police often complain that the trust between police and citizens is skewed and that there should be more respect, but you also have to earn respect. Practices like this do exactly the opposite, they encourage mistrust."
The nature of those arrests has also drawn sharp criticism for being heavy-handed.
A video circulated on social media showing Brussels police forcibly removing young Brussels residents of North African origin from a bench in Place de la Monnaie, sparking criticism.
According to the police, it is “a fragment of a recording that reflects neither the full context nor the precise circumstances of the intervention”.
Brussels mayor Philippe Close (PS) met several Brussels youth associations earlier this week with the aim of avoiding further unrest.
“We want to further complement the police measures with preventative youth work, because sometimes we are talking about very young offenders,” the mayor’s office said.
“The intention is not only to tackle unrest with repressive measures, but also to discourage it in other ways.”
According to Close, neighbourhood and residents' committees played a major role in preventing further unrest over the weekend which were said to be instigated “almost exclusively by minors”.
The mayor says these underage youths “partly see it as a game.”
But some of the detained youths said they had nothing to do with the civil unrest and were ethnically profiled.
“I went to the Quick and a few hours later I was sitting handcuffed in the police station,” one said.
"We were not at all concerned with those riots, we just wanted to go and eat something. But there were so many police that we didn't feel comfortable and decided to go somewhere else."
He and three other young men, aged between 17 and 22, moved to the tram stop across the street when a group of policemen approached.
“I was shocked: there were four of us and at least 10 of them. They pushed us against the wall and started to be heavy-handed.”
The young men said they were given tie-wraps on their wrists and then had to sit next to each other in a police vehicle. Other youths they did not know also joined them.
“We were given no explanation and had nothing in our pockets apart from a few €10 notes, but they kept shouting,” one told Bruzz.
"It was very disrespectful. At one point, one of the officers even pushed his leg against my neck, which made me unable to breathe for a while.
"I tried a few times to have a conversation with an officer, but they clearly didn't feel like it. In the end, they took down our names and contact details and called our parents to come and pick us up."
The four do not intend at the moment to file a complaint, saying it “seems like a bit of lost effort, we know how the police feel about us”.
Another witness to police arrests of young people said their methods were so heavy-handed that “eventually, bystanders also started urging the police to be gentler on these boys. Some had serious wounds on their arms, others looked barely 12 or 13 years old.”
Police said that the arrests were justified, perhaps especially the arrests of nine young people last Friday who allegedly had concrete plans to carry out an attack on the police station in Anderlecht in response to the death of the French teen.
“We obviously breathe a sigh of relief that nothing happened, but the fact that these youths had concrete plans is worrying,” said police spokeswoman Sarah Frederickx.
Eight of the nine suspects are minors, with the youngest being 12 years old and the oldest only recently having turned 18.
“This raises concerns for the future, knowing that young people, often minors, are capable of coming up with such a threat,” Jurgen De Landsheer, chief of police for the Brussels-South police zone, said.
According to De Landsheer, one reason young people are venturing into violence at an increasingly younger age is due to the influence of social media and the environment they are in.
“On social media, they come into contact with the wrong people, so it is important to keep monitoring social media and intervene, whether preventively or repressively,” De Landsheer said.