Police brutalities in Belgium

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 11, 2010

I was very shocked reading “this account of police brutalities in Belgium”:http://www.mo.be/index.php?id=340&tx_uwnews_pi2[art_id]=29989&cHash=c7f254ce3e. I really have nothing to add, except that I am going to write, tonight, to the two members of parliament I voted for (one for the senate and one for the chamber), and will ask them (1) what we, concerned citizens, can do, and (2) what they can do to make sure this is properly being investigated. I know most Belgian politicians have other things on their mind (the political difficulties of forming a majority coalition look more insurmountable each day), but surely that cannot be an excuse for letting the police getting away with treating innocent people like this.



John Quiggin 10.11.10 at 8:20 pm

This sounds like Queensland thirty years ago (or maybe like today, in places like Palm Island). Does Belgium have a police anti-corruption commission?


Ingrid Robeyns 10.11.10 at 8:36 pm

The MP’s of the two green parties (that is, francophone and flemish) have asked questions to the minister who is responsible for the police, but she apparently reported that ‘nothing abnormal’ has happened.
For an account by one of them (mostly in French), see

There is indeed such a commission to guard the police, but my hunch is by the time the commission takes up this case, Belgium will no longer be there. These commissions, just like the legal system which is supposed to protect people’s basic civil rights, are just insultingly and demoralisingly slow.


ejh 10.11.10 at 8:43 pm

One of my first politically-related memories is seeing, on television, Belgian mounted police charge striking steelworkers. This would be, I don’t know, about 1979 or 1980 I suppose. I recall them having round shields and looking for all the world like they were a cavalry unit from a war hundreds of years before. Of course we got used to this a few years later in the UK – except we didn’t, because TV news was (and is) usually careful to film from behind police lines, so that the cavalry charges were always away from the viewer and you never really felt what it was like on the receiving end. But this was filmed from the strikers’ positions, and the police were really charging. Never forgotten it.


P O'Neill 10.11.10 at 9:26 pm

While I don’t how one would establish cross-national trends for this problem, consider this tale — New Haven police using their SWAT team for a Yale underage drinking bust.


John Quiggin 10.11.10 at 9:28 pm

BTW, how does the government operate in this situation? In Australia, after the election is called, we go into “caretaker” mode when no major decisions can be taken. Usually that’s over on election night, but this time it continued until the new minority government was formed.


y81 10.11.10 at 10:06 pm

Whoa, you guys sound like tea partiers or militia members! The government is good, the government is right, the government knows what it is doing. If the people don’t like it, the government will have to dissolve them.


Barry 10.11.10 at 10:33 pm

Back in August, 1945, an American sergeant stationed in Germany wrote to his family ‘all of the Nazis got back on their flying saucers and returned to Mars – if you believe the folks hereabouts’.

That sums up my feeling to the teabaggers.


Tom M 10.11.10 at 11:00 pm

Theory? Meet practice. Ouch.


hix 10.11.10 at 11:03 pm

University lecturers and Yale students dont make very believable police victims.


ajay 10.12.10 at 8:28 am

9: except in cases where the police themselves actually back up every part of their story, you mean?


Ginger Yellow 10.12.10 at 8:46 am

The MP’s of the two green parties (that is, francophone and flemish) have asked questions to the minister who is responsible for the police, but she apparently reported that ‘nothing abnormal’ has happened.

Well, perhaps not, but that’s the problem, isn’t it?


Red 10.12.10 at 8:49 am

I must say I am not terribly surprised, having been on the receiving end of this sort of thing in Belgium years ago (mid 1970s). Some things never change, like Belgian surrealism.


Nicholas Whyte 10.12.10 at 12:22 pm

Glad to see that Eva Brems, who I voted for in the election for the Chamber, is at the forefront of those asking questions. (I threw away my Senate vote for Tine Van Rompuy, who was not elected.)


Kenneth Arnold 10.12.10 at 12:49 pm

7: How did the sergeant come to use the term “flying saucer” two years before it was coined?


Ingrid 10.12.10 at 6:13 pm

I asked Eva Brems what ‘concerned citizens’ could do, and she recommended writing letters to the newspapers, or writing to the Minister who denies that something serious happened. Her name is Ms. Annemie Turtelboom, and her e-mail min.annemie.turtelboom@ibz.fgov.be


JM 10.12.10 at 7:47 pm

Whoa, you guys sound like tea partiers or militia members!

That’s because you’re an idiot. I don’t have to join an astroturf group in order to oppose the abuse of power.


Barry 10.12.10 at 7:52 pm

Kenneth Arnold 10.12.10 at 12:49 pm

Could have been ‘space ship’.


Fr. 10.13.10 at 1:15 pm

In France, social movements usually have their cameras ready to capture such excesses as soon as they happen, in order to flood the Internet with videos and photographs with the actual events. I recall a demonstration where the police were filmed throwing rocks at the crowd in order to justify an attack against the ‘mob’.

Did the Belgian activists do the same? Visual evidence will be useful to courts and mainstream media alike.


Tim Wilkinson 10.13.10 at 3:07 pm

What should concerned citizens do?.

P O’Neill @4 – I don’t how one would establish cross-national trends for this problem Off the top of my head, here’s a dispatch on the UK situation:

People keep being shot by the police over here. I’m getting quite accustomed to it. And bashed about and ‘kettled’ at demos, though if the papers are anything to go on (clue: they’re not) the recipients of this robust treatment are all troublemakers who break windows and are bent on violence. (Indeed one may observe a small but vocal element of, er, provocative types with covered faces, whom no-one seems to know.) Even if beaten protestors die it’s OK, because one way or another police impunity for this kind of thing is always maintained. The woman nominally in charge of the apparent execution of De Menezes was recently awarded some kind of bauble.

In fact I can’t remember a single instance of a cop getting into any serious trouble (e.g. prison, loss of pension) for anything, ever. Can anyone else? (One odd – longstanding – phenomenon I’ve never been able to fathom is that misconduct by cops is regarded as adequately deterred by the occasional apparent criminal going unconvicted. Some kind of cosmic balance I haven’t quite got my head around I suppose.)

There is a general increase in authoritarianism – even militarisation – in policing round these parts I’d say. Not living in central London, I’m still not quite entirely used to the number of them you see standing around with assault rifles. A lot of them have started wearing baseball caps, eschewing the reassuringly faintly ridiculous domed helmets, and fatigue-style trousers that show off their boots are becoming prevalent. These are little things, but all contribute to the overall mood and climate.

And they don’t tolerate being photographed if they can possibly avoid it. They have the law on their side there of course – photographing police is an arrestable offence, the definition of which includes the word terrorism, but in a meaningless way.

(Fr. @18 – they can’t prevent it in crowd situations, though illegitimately removing id numbers from epaulettes on special occasions – a nice treat – is an old tradition, but although the pics get into some of the less Tory rags, nothing much seems to happen as a result. In custody, of course, photography is not an option. It is a totally controlled environment.)

On the other hand, they are very keen photographers themselves – I was at a cricket match a while back and the crowd coming out of the ground was being videoed by cops, for no conceivable good reason.

I also notice that the particular brand of objectification used in this particular Belgian example of thuggery was ‘leftists’ – which is not surprising at all. Over here, the government is dismantling the welfare state as fast as it can under the pretext of an economic state of emergency complete with patriotic wartime rhetoric.

The boundaries between economic imperative, national interest and national security are about the only thing that doesn’t seem to be policed (well, apart from custodes ipsos of course). Combined with the increasing pace of curtailment even of de jure civil rights and liberties over the past 30 years or so, this frog at least is starting to feel uncomfortably warm.

Chris B did a post a while ago following the ‘unrest’ in Greece, wondering whether some recommendations of ‘temporary’ emergency measures could be expected in the UK press. Well not exactly, yet, but the new head of MI5 has been making some interesting remarks, in a recent interview:

The recession [sic – read recession + brutal spending cuts] could have a long-term impact on Britain’s national security, making the country more vulnerable to terrorism, espionage and radicalism, he suggested. History had shown that previous worldwide recessions had had worrying repercussions. The security threat would depend on whether the downturn proved to be a “watershed moment”, affecting British society on a much larger scale than was now the case. [it will – again, he politely doesn’t explicitly mention the cuts.] Although there was no direct relationship between economic distress and extremism, the security repercussions should the West become less economically dominant had to be kept in mind.


Philip 10.13.10 at 9:54 pm

@ Tim Wilkinson: ‘In fact I can’t remember a single instance of a cop getting into any serious trouble (e.g. prison, loss of pension) for anything, ever. ‘, see here for the most recent example I know about.

Though I do have doubts about the independence of the IPCC see here for an example.

Basically Sunderland fans return from a pre-season friendly game in August 2009, the train stops at Newcastle and they should get the Metro back to Sunderland. The fans complain of being detained and beaten by Police and the Police respond with accusations of fans’ violence. It is referred to IPCC who exonerate and praise the Police after only seeing CCTV evidence provide by the Police and not taking any evidence or statements from fans (<a href ="the football supporters federation complain that the decision prejudges the case" ) . Some fans have now been charged but the court date has been put back, to May I think, and the ‘conclusive’ CCTV footage hasn’t been released.


Philip 10.13.10 at 10:01 pm

Oops, I messed up the tags there. The Football Supporters’ Federation complained that the IPCC decision prejudged the case, link . Some fans have been charged but their case has been put back, to May I think, and the ‘conclusive’ CCTV footage has not been released yet.


DPirate 10.14.10 at 11:00 am

What I don’t understand is how this is some great apotheosis for her (?). Happens every single day all across the world. To the poor, mostly. When they screw up and smack around somebody meaningful to power, they get a talking-to. BFD.


Tim Wilkinson 10.14.10 at 4:41 pm

Philip – Thanks, yes that was a very hasty remark. (It was at least (a) flagged as ‘off the top of my head’, i.e. hasty, (b) true – I couldn’t remember any at the time – and (c) undogmatic – I requested further info. )

I’ve just checked my copy of Untouchables, and it reports a few convictions of cops, with serious sentences served, relating to things like the 60s firm-within-a-firm, the Daniel Morgan murder. Impunity is more prevalent though, and matters are complicated by the fact that these cases tend to be (to say the least) much less clear cut, with intrigues and opposing interests within and outside the police, self-serving ‘supergrasses’, etc., i.e. not just a straightforward closing of ranks.

Those didn’t spring to mind since I was thinking of brutality cases, rather than corruption, which is fairly distinct. Police involvement in organised crime may involve tactical murder and witness intimidation, but it’s not so far as I know closely tied in with their involvement in political and authoritarian violence in this country).

But – I also had the brilliant idea of Googling ‘policeman jailed’, and the third result was this: Policeman jailed for throwing woman into cell back on full pay after serving just six days in prison, about the very same Sgt Mark Andrews.

The headline is a bit misleading in the usual ‘walked free from court’ way, since at the appeal hearing in November (or later if adjourned) the conviction may be upheld. (I assume appela is against conviction – might just be sentence.)

Still, the way these cases go is very much like the (false) stereotype the police themselves like to bandy about – law bends over backwards to help the wrong ‘uns, etc. There’s a police disciplinary scheduled too apparently, presumably to be done after the appeal(s). Oddly, the way it’s reported made it sound as though it might not be a foregone conclusion even if the conviction sticks.

I do hope the stress of this ordeal isn’t going to lead to some kind of early retirement before the appeals process is entirely exhausted, and a suspended or non-cust sentence when (if?) the conviction is finally upheld. Sounds outrageous, but I certainly wouldn’t bet against it or something like it. I think those responsible (police forces, police federation, and some of the less dementedly biased of their friends in the penal system) justify this somehow as not washing dirty linen in public, keeping it in the family, not showing weakness or something.

Anyway, I’ll mark this down as one to watch.

(BTW I bet none of the Belgian victims were hospitalised; sounds like a purposeful and organised operation. Ordinary medics do not take kindly to having to patch up victims of police brutality, as the police well know.)

DPirate – but it is a big fucking deal, whether it’s news or not.


Red 10.14.10 at 5:40 pm

My apologies (also to Ingrid) if this is off-topic, but my old country has me shaking my head in wonder (unbelief?) again today: the new archbishop of Brussels, André-Joseph Léonard, has just called AIDS “a form of immanent justice”:

What on earth is going on there?


NBarnes 10.15.10 at 9:32 pm

Cheery. I’m going to go re-read V for Vendetta and then cut myself some while thinking about how much I hate thugs in uniform.


Ingrid 10.18.10 at 6:00 pm

DPirate: you absolutely have a point. The only issue is that since (a) this is happening in my homecountry, I do feel more responsible to do/say something about it, and (b) since she is sort-of-a-colleague, I happen to have received quite a lot of information from different sources on this case, and hence was compelled to write a short line about it. But you are definitely right that one could write something about this every day, if one were to look for the information.

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