Police shooting of psychiatric patient in Brussels may have been racist, activist claims

Police shooting of psychiatric patient in Brussels may have been racist, activist claims
Credit: Belga / Laurie Dieffembacq

Questions have started to arise over the police shooting and subsequent death of a psychiatric patient in the municipality of Uccle, with the victim’s name and ethnicity yet to be disclosed by authorities.

The incident occurred on Tuesday, 21 March, after the Fond’Roy Clinic called for a police intervention after one of their patients became agitated and was described as having been aggressive.

According to the police, they shot the 49-year-old patient as the person was armed with a sharp weapon, and would not calm down. The victim was then taken to the hospital where he died from his injuries. 

No other information about the shooting has been communicated by either the police or Brussels’ Public Prosecutor’s Office which is currently investigating the incident. Furthermore, no details have been given about the victim other than person's age, gender and supposed state of mind.

In the days following the shooting, flowers were placed at the clinic’s doors in memory of the former patient, whose name is still unknown. 

Among those paying their respects was the 33-year-old human rights activist Brenda Odimba, who knew the clinic well, as she had gone to therapy sessions at a neighbouring centre. After leaving one of her sessions last week, she was approached by a woman who asked her whether she knew that the victim was black. 

‘This wouldn’t have happened if he was white'

Odimba had already been shocked by the news of the shooting, telling The Brussels Times that “there is no reason for a psychiatric patient to end up dead,” especially given that Fond’Roy is “a very good clinic.”

However, the incident took another dimension for the activist when she could not find any other information about the victim, other than a report from the independent news website Bruxelles Dévie. She subsequently attempted to reach the victim’s family which yielded no response. 

The activist then took matters into her own hands and contacted the clinic’s director to informally discuss what occurred on that fateful day. 

“I explained to her that I did not want this case of police violence to tarnish Fond’Roy’s image,” to which the director answered that they had only followed the correct procedure by calling the police. “I then asked her whether she believed that this wouldn’t have happened if he was white?” To which the director answered that she did not view the incident to have been racist, seemingly confirming the patient’s ethnicity.

For Odimba though, the victim’s skin colour was a deciding factor in the way the officers treated him, which she claims was further exemplified by the “sharp weapon” he was said to be carrying. “I know the clinic and trust me, it would be impossible for a patient to be armed,” the activist told The Brussels Times before stating that the victim had in fact been carrying a nail clipper.

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Odimba explained that “the police were lying, just as they did for Sourour Abouda,” the woman who was found dead in police custody earlier this year. “Nobody believes that she could have hung herself with a jumper and nobody believes that this patient was carrying a weapon. So why lie if you have nothing to hide?”

If the claims are confirmed, the 49-year-old would be the fourteenth person in Belgium to have died at the hands of police since 2017 and the fourth person of colour in the past two years.

When contacted by The Brussels Times, the capital's Public Prosecutor's Office currently in charge of investigating the patient's death stated that they would not hand out any information regarding the victim's name, ethnicity and the type of weapon he was carrying.

What’s next?

On her part, the activist is planning on writing an open letter to the victim’s family with a view of holding a wake in his honour. However, she admitted that not much can be done without the family’s approval, who is yet to respond to her calls.

In the meantime, she will continue raising awareness about the incident which, according to her, “is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cases of racist police brutality.”

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