Police on horseback run over partygoer in Bois de la Cambre: investigation opened

Police on horseback run over partygoer in Bois de la Cambre: investigation opened
Many young people were involved in police intervention of the La Boum events earlier this year. Credit: Belga

An investigation has been opened into videos circulating on social media of a police officer on horseback knocking down a person at the fake festival in the Brussels Bois de la Cambre on Thursday.

While dispersing the crowd of up to 2,000 people at "La Boum,” a fake festival in Brussels’ Bois de la Cambre that was announced as an April Fools' joke, at least 26 police officers, eight attendees and seven police horses were injured.

On social media, videos of police on horseback breaking up the crowd are circulating. The riders headed towards someone - who has their back turned to them - without slowing down, and knocked them to the ground.

Whether the person sustained any injuries as a result of the incident is not clear at the time, report local media.

Interior Affairs Minister Annelies Verlinden - who had earlier called the events in the park a "slap in the face" for everyone who did respect the coronavirus measures - said that the images of the incident are being investigated, as their context is not yet clear.

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"The action of the police must of course always be proportionate," she told VRT, adding that they initially used a drone to tell people to leave the park, and only used stricter means after young people pelted them with all kinds of projectiles.

In a press release on Friday morning, the Brussels public prosecutor's office made it clear that it will analyse all images circulating on social media, including those of the horses.

The federal police cannot comment on the specific images as they first want to see what exactly happened before and after the images.

"Yesterday, the cavalry was under the command of the Brussels-Capital Ixelles police zone," Carla Christiaens of the federal police told VRT. "The services are deployed according to the directives of the commanding officer on the spot."

According to her, the cavalry was initially deployed to "address the people from an elevated position and ask them to leave the park. But as you have seen, that was to little avail."

Riders on horseback were then only really deployed when the units were attacked or pelted on foot, said Christiaens. "They were also used to prevent the crowd from regrouping. Before we intervene, there is quite a lot that happened. The use of force is highly regulated, so this did not happen just like that."

However, according to criminology professor Sofie De Kimpe, the use of horses was "excessive" in this case.

"Normally, horses move aside, but a police horse is trained to keep running. If the rider leads the horse like that, it will run people over," she told De Standaard. "He could have sent the horse past this person. This is completely unnecessary."

On Friday morning, the mayor of the city of Brussels, Philippe Close, added on Walloon radio that the police waited some time before intervening, to be able to distinguish between people who were in the park in good faith, and the troublemakers.

"As soon as we saw that there were 1,500 to 2,000 people in the park, we said 'enough is enough'," he said. "Frankly, those who were still there after the police made the first arrests knew there was a problem."

"I will never allow people to pelt the police, to throw glass bottles at them," said Close, who wants the organisers of the fake festival to pay for the costs.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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