Police used rubber bullets during a riot that broke out in Saint-Josse and Schaerbeek on Wednesday evening after the death of a young man in police custody last Saturday.
The trouble broke out following a peaceful demonstration organised by the family of the 23-year-old victim, Ibrahima Barrie, and approved by the mayor of Saint-Josse, Emir Kir.
Barrie was approached by police after he was seen filming a police check near the Brussels North station. He fled but was caught later and taken to a police station close to the station, where he became unwell. He died later of heart failure, an autopsy revealed.
After the silent and static wake, youths took to the streets, setting fire to a police station in Schaerbeek, smashing tram windows and a bus stop ad ransacking a pharmacy. Police detained 116 people, mainly for identity checks.
Today, De Morgen revealed that police at the incident has used rubber bullets against some of the demonstrators. On a video posted online by the paper, one police officer can clearly be seen firing a rubber bullet from close range at a youth running by.
A police spokesperson confirmed the paper’s claim.
“We can confirm that the images are authentic and that our Support Team used rubber bullets,” said Amal Ihkan, spokesperson for the Brussels North police zone. However, she would not disclose the type of weapon used for “operational reasons”.
Several people on Twitter speculated it was the FN 303, officially described as a ‘non-lethal weapon’.
The FN 303 last made an appearance on the streets of Brussels in 2018, during a demonstration by the protestors known as the Yellow Vests. On that occasion it was not used.
The weapon may be classified as non-lethal when used correctly, in other circumstances it can cause serious or even fatal injury – especially when fired at close quarters.
The weapon “should only be used when strictly necessary,” according to Kati Verstrepen, chair of the League for Human Rights.
“I cannot deduce from the images whether that is the case here. It is not clear what precedes the shooting. Unless the boy in question has committed a serious crime or there are indications that he intends to do so, it seems clear to me that the violence used here is disproportionate,” she said.
The police authorities, she told the paper, need to investigate the case.
“Using violence against the police is completely out of the question and the rioters must be identified and punished. However, responding to violence against the police with disproportionate police force will only cause more violence, and we end up in a very downward spiral.”