Coronavirus: tensions soar over teen's death in police check

Coronavirus: tensions soar over teen's death in police check
Credit: Belga

A police decision to engage in a car chase in which a Brussels teen was killed certainly warrants some questioning, a member of Brussels’ executive cabinet said, prompting backlash from police unions.

Brussels Secretary of State Pascal Smet took to social media to say there were “certainly a number of questions to ask” after a 19-year-old, identified as Adil, died when his scooter collided head-on with a police vehicle as he attempted to flee a police check.

“Adil, I don’t think I have met him. But those who knew him said he was a friendly and serviceable young man. He has now been robbed of a future, not because of the coronavirus, but because a police control got out of hand,” Smet wrote.

Prosecutors said the chase began when officers with the Brussels-Midi police zone moved to carry out a check on two teens onboard scooters in Place du Conseil in the municipality of Anderlecht, which prompted the 19-year-old to take flight.

“Why did he flee the police check? Was [the check] really the absolute priority on that night?” Smet wrote, further wondering whether another approach could have been found.

While Smet condemned the riots that erupted on Saturday, as protesters lashed out at police over the deadly crash, he said the incident could suggest a lack of community engagement from police.

“Despite all their statements regarding their proximity [with the local community], [the police officers] probably didn’t know [Adil’s] name,” Smet wrote.

“And when dozens of young people lash out and attack police, there is definitely something serious there,” he said, citing “a breach of trust, defiance, incomprehension” and even hatred "coming from both sides.”

Police unions demand apology

During the riots on Saturday, protesters pelted police with rocks and a service weapon was reportedly stolen, an incident under investigation by police.

Throughout the weekend, messages from the victim’s family were posted on social media, in which they urged for calm and respect as they grieved their loss.

Smet's message drew outrage from police unions, who said the former regional minister should hold off from commenting on the event.

“Well, Mr. Smet, you say you didn’t know Adil. Wouldn’t it be better to refrain from making any comments?” Vincent Houssin, spokesman for the SLPF/VSOA police union said, De Standaard reports.

“You say police could have done it differently. Unfortunately, you were not around at the time, yet you make a judgement about the police’s reaction.”

On Monday, the ACOD LRB police union also came out against Smet's comments and demanded an apology from the secretary of state, saying the only conclusions to be drawn from his statements was that the police was responsible for the death of Adil.

"Dear Secretary of State, the best thing you can do is to apologise to police officers, but also to the family of Adil, whose death you are using to drag police through the mud," the union wrote, Belga news agency reports.

Police say no racial profiling

Following the incident, the head of the Brussels-Midi police zone said that the deadly incident on Friday was terrible but that a chase could not have been avoided.

“When someone tries to bypass a control, we must act decisively,” Chief of Corps Patrick Evenepoel said, adding that it was "absolutely out of the question" that ethnic or racial profiling could have played a role in the police officer’s decision to check the two teenagers.

On Sunday, Thomas Devos, a social worker active in the neighbourhood said that Adil's death stirred feelings of resentment and insecurity within the local community, where he said Adil occasionally did voluntary work.

In statements to Bruzz, Devos said that despite being among protesters when police charged, he remained "safe."

"It is surprising how as a white man you can look [charging police officers] straight in the eye, and then see them pass you by. I do not meet the rioter profile. Safe. My companions, although they had nothing to do with the riots, hid in the gym. They have matched the profile for years," Devos said.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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