'Would not happen to a white MEP': Brussels police accused of racism

'Would not happen to a white MEP': Brussels police accused of racism
German MEP Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana filed a complaint for police brutality against officers of the Brussels North police zone. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, a German MEP, is filing a complaint against the Brussels police for being treated harshly during a police check on Tuesday.

During the plenary session of the European Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, the 71-year-old German MEP for Die Grüne (the Greens), who was born in Mali, spoke about what happened to her in Brussels.

Around 2:30 PM on Tuesday afternoon, Herzberger arrived in the Brussels Gare du Nord by train and witnessed nine police officers checking two black young men at the back of the station. The officers were checking people in the neighbourhood after a man was knocked unconscious with an iron rod during a fight last weekend and ended up in hospital, reports De Morgen.

When the officers saw Herzberger pointing her cell phone at them to make images, they stopped her as well. "Four armed cops brutally pushed me against the wall, violently took my handbag, searched my wallet, confiscated my phone and pressured me," her complaint said, according to the newspaper.

"One cop told me to stand against the wall with my legs spread, hands against the wall. He wanted to search me (...) He spoke German and I told him not to touch me. His answer: 'Against the wall. I do what I want, you stay there'," the complaint said.

She was then searched by a female officer, and another one dumped the contents of her handbag on the ground. They searched her backpack and a suitcase as well.

However, according to the Brussels-North police zone, the officers tried to make sure the check was carried out calmly. "Our officers acted professionally," a spokesperson told De Morgen. "By filming, the woman became involved in the check. She initially refused to give her identification documents," they added.

Tine Destrooper, professor of Human Rights at the UGent, however, witnessed the check and found that it was carried out so harshly that she, too, took out her phone to make images, when she saw a black woman being violently pushed against the wall.

"A policeman shouted at me that I was not allowed to film, but they were unlucky that I do know my rights," Destrooper told De Morgen. Filming a police check is allowed in Belgium, but Destrooper still stopped. She was then also checked.

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"I did not have my ID card in my pocket, but I had a digital copy of it. That cop said he would send me a fine of €500 for that. He would not identify himself, but he said I would see the name on the fine. It was all very intimidating," she added.

The police zone started an internal investigation, and informed the Brussels Public Prosecutor's Office as well. According to the police spokesperson, this was done because the police officers drew up a judicial report against Pierrette Herzberger. Against Tine Destrooper, an administrative (GAS) penalty has been drawn up.

Destrooper, in turn, has lodged a complaint for harassment with Committee P, the organ supervising the police services.

On behalf of Herzberger, her lawyer Alexis Deswaef lodged a complaint with the Public Prosecutor's Office, for intentional assault and battery, humiliating treatment, abuse of power, but also racism and discrimination.

Several times, Herzberger told the officers that she was a member of the European Parliament, but they did not believe her, according to her. Even though she had already handed over all her documents at the beginning of the check, including her MEP card.

"They asked what she was technically doing there, by which they meant that she was a cleaning lady in parliament or something," her lawyer Deswaef told De Morgen, clarifying that a cleaning lady should also not be handled more harshly than an MEP. "The police could not imagine that a black woman was an MEP. This would never happen to a white MEP," the lawyer added.

The President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, is going to ask the Belgian authorities for an explanation about the events.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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