You got a baton, I got some words: spotlighting police violence as our birthday cake
Disclaimer: white privilege in front of law enforcement bodies does exist in Europe, and the level of structural racism and extreme violence racialised communities face concurrently is a reality no one should ever normalise. Racially motivated crimes are faced by millions of people daily, so their voice and power to mobilise are the channels to address such crimes. Silence is violence and the worst weapon if it falls in racist hands. The following is an experience where no explicit racial discrimination was involved, however your author acknowledges that more brutal actions in the hands of police units have occurred as a consequence of their inherent systemic racism.
I wish I wasn’t here. Typing from the faculty’s echoing corridor while waiting for someone from the university staff to care for what we experienced a few nights ago. Not very clear where to ask for legal advice as a student if not here. The municipal police station, instead, one might think. The same police station that coordinates and supervises night police units meant to serve and protect the local community, no matter if one is a student, resident or visitor. However obvious such a role might seem, Saturday night proved that taking for granted their protective function might be foolish. Apologies if this piece of virtual blank paper is having a chat with a particularly impulsive and mad version of myself, but violence in hands of law enforcement bodies needs to be stopped as the law seems not be sufficient to do so on its own.
On Saturday night into Sunday early morning, a group of approximately fifteen male and one female police officers appeared in front of the house I happen to share with four other people, where a birthday party – simultaneously to probably ten other parties in the city – was taking place. By the time they arrived, quite different from the official statement Maastricht Politie published on Monday, 13th February, the number of people was close to 40 and not 100 – a number impossible to materialise considering the size of the building. Some students were outside the house, progressively going away. The volume of the tracks being mixed inside, despite perceptible, was moderate according to some neighbours that came to the house the day after asking what had happened. No warning had been given by police nor handhaving –non-governmental enforcement units– for having caused noise or other disturbance. Once they arrived, under their unproved word of ‘having been refused access’ to the premises, they entered the building.
Let’s be honest here: while it is true that student parties have been the one seed for numerous tense confrontations between local residents and the student community, which can have reasonable grounds to occur as loud parties can result in a decrease of residents’ quality of life, unjustified violence is by no means something one - as a citizen and student - should tolerate. Loud music can of course be a reason to complain, but becoming the pretense to insult, beat, push and ignore the genuinely non-violent demands of a student to be treated respectfully, or likewise passively supporting such an action, goes too far. If that was not enough, hate against students grew after several videos were shared on social media becoming the cherry on top of our cake.
Dutch law does not set statutory limits regarding noise nuisance within national legislation, instead it is the corresponding municipal ordinances the ones meant to determine so. In Maastricht, only when the noise is ‘serious and repeated’ [ernstige en herhaaldelijke] a burden will be legitimately imposable on the residents at stake, which was not at all the argument the police unit could use to enter and clear out our house considering that, first, no warning of disturbance was received before they decided to evacuate the building; second, we have been living in the neighbourhood for a month so it was virtually impossible for our noise nuisance to be serious nor repeated, even if repeated here referred to a daytime.
Entering a private property requires police to have reasonable evidence that, inside, there is a risk to public safety or an emergency in need of immediate response, in any case having knocked first the door and informed of their presence and who they are. None of the previous matches what happened at Saturday's party. Officers claimed to be acting to ensure ‘public safety’ when they had already entered the building, with no legal ground for this, and went on claiming that there were no emergency exits habilitated, as if our two-floored house was hosting an Ibizan macro-party.
Beatings took place; students were grabbed and pushed on their chests, necks and arms; police bikes were used as shields to push people away; a dog’s barking became an intimidation megaphone that woke up half of the neighbourhood; and a nineteen year-old female was arrested and fined, under the premise of ‘public intoxication’ –as stated by the police– when reality was she was trying to help a friend get up from the floor when an officer had pushed her, exactly what she reported one hour at the police station. A very eloquent way to make it to local headlines.
And I second-guess it all, wondering where one should feel safe and sound then. Reading a statement that qualifies a student group as ‘increasingly aggressive’ and the cause of a ‘threatening atmosphere’ when in fact people’s attitude was complete shock and questioning towards the use of batons, pushing and disrespectful words used against them makes one feel helpless.
Perhaps this has gone beyond the use of force for the sake of our safety and instead has become an overstretching of police authority officers were convinced no one would question. Civil servants who struggled so hard to personify that authority their job title promised them once that they ended up using force to gain some respect. Well, such respect and sense of protection was trodden down by police officers themselves.
But let’s make this an eye-opening case. A good excuse to start de-romanticising our picture of any European democratic country or any charming bike-friendly city, as Maastricht is. Violence at the hands of law enforcement bodies is more likely to be disproportionately used when citizens are not aware of their rights, when there’s a lack of data and attention regarding police brutality and victims’ individual experiences of suffering, and when the mediatic focus is easily displaced from the state security forces’ crimes to other actors’. Community-building makes up for individual and collective safety most of the time, especially when police protection is increasingly turning into a safety vest increasingly hard to trust.
About the author: Ana is a student at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences who regularly writes for The Maastricht Diplomat. On Saturday, she, her roommates and the people present experienced first-hand the story you just read. Watch the last MD’s video report by Jonathan Wijayaratne and Hadrian Di Ianni on the events and march organised two days after.