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Rising tensions between youth gangs and police in Brussels

Credit: Belga

The tension between youth gangs and police officers in several Brussels municipalities is threatening to get out of hand, according to the VSOA/SLFP police union.

“There have been riots in Brussels for some time now,” Vincent Houssin of the union said on Radio 1 on Thursday. “They are being brushed under the carpet. Youth gangs are gathering in the streets and provoking the police. The fact that the Ramadan is going on is used as an excuse for many of these gatherings,” he added.

He referred to incidents that happened in the Brussels’ municipality of Saint-Gilles, when the police had to intervene after dozens of people gathered in the streets. “Several individuals surrounded the police officers. They threw objects and clashed with the police,” Denis Goeman, the spokesperson of the Brussels public prosecutor’s office, told RTL.

Two officers are temporarily unable to work, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Brussels has opened a judicial investigation, according to Goeman. The surveillance cameras are being analysed and people are being identified.

However, the union stressed that “99% of the inhabitants are giving the right example” and follow the measures as much as possible, but Houssin said that there were also riots in Anderlecht, Molenbeek and Schaerbeek.

“The police are powerless. The situation threatens to get out of hand. The police officers are not the ones provoking. It is clear from the images that the police are always trying to calm things down. But the youths themselves continue to provoke, and even stand a few inches away filming everything,” Houssin added.

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“Within the framework of maintaining public order, this power lies with the administrative authorities. The politicians, in other words,” Houssin said, adding that it is “incomprehensible” that global files are being drawn up, instead of individual fines. It is implied that the police should not intervene too hard, according to Houssin. “We go for a mediating policy, but that does not do much good,” he said.

Both Police Zone Brussels South and West emphasised that they had not received any guidelines from the municipalities, but that the number of incidents is low. “We will intervene where necessary,” Caroline Vervaert of Police Zone Brussels West told De Standaard.

However, this loose approach only supports the youth gangs, according to Houssin. “Local authorities often point accusations at the police, but young people are just laughing at us. Police forces have less and less to say in certain neighbourhoods,” he added.

Several weeks ago, the VSOA/SLFP union also spoke out against local authorities after State Secretary of the Brussels-Capital Region Pascal Smet said that there were “certainly a number of questions to ask” after a 19-year-old man died when his scooter collided head-on with a police vehicle as he attempted to flee a coronavirus police check.

Following the 19-year-old’s death, riots broke out in Anderlecht, and the police arrested over 40 people.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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