Belgian cops throw down handcuffs in protest against media 'hostility'

Belgian police throw down their handcuffs in mass protest against media ‘hostility’ and accusations of racism, fascism and homophobia in wake of Black Lives Matter demonstrations

  • Hundreds of officers gathered in central Brussels and threw down cuffs today 
  • ‘They call us racists, fascists, homophobes … That police bashing, we are tired of it,’ inspector Vincent De Clercq said. ‘We have nothing to do with the US police.’
  • It comes after Black Lives Matter demonstrations over death of George Floyd
  • The protests have led to statues to Belgium’s colonial past being taken down

Hundreds of Belgian police officers today threw down their handcuffs to protest media ‘hostility’ and accusations of racism, fascism and homophobia in the wake of the George Floyd demonstrations. 

Officers in uniform and in plain clothes gathered outside the Palais de Justice, the highest court in the land, and threw down their cuffs and orange identifying armbands.

‘They call us racists, fascists, homophobes … That police bashing, we are tired of it,’ inspector Vincent De Clercq told HLN.

‘Since George Floyd’s death in the US, Belgian agents have been tarred with the same brush. That’s not fair. We have nothing to do with the American police.’

It comes after demonstrations by Black Lives Matter supporters in Brussels and across Europe in solidarity with those in the US after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. 

Hundreds of Belgian police officers today threw down their handcuffs to protest against accusations of racism and anti-police sentiment in the media.

Officers in uniform and in plain clothes gathered outside the Palais de Justice, the highest court in the land, and threw down their cuffs and orange identifying armbands.

‘They call us racists, fascists, homophobes … That police bashing, we are tired of it,’ inspector Vincent De Clercq told HLN .

A demonstrator holds up her fist, in front of police officers during a protest, organised by Black Lives Matter Belgium, against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in central Brussels, Belgium June 7, 2020

The inspector also referred to the recent case of a black MEP who has complained about being racially mistreated by officers, which occurred in his sector of the city.

Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, of the German Green party, told the EU Parliament on Wednesday that she was pushed and grabbed by four officers on Tuesday after she began to film police harassing two young black people outside the Gare du Nord. 

The parliament demanded an explanation from Belgian authorities after the Malian-born MEP claimed she was the victim of ‘extremely traumatic’ violence and ‘a discriminatory act with underlying racist tendencies.’ 

Inspector De Clercq today told HLN: ‘Her version of the facts was immediately portrayed as the truth. I am not going to say whether she is right or wrong. But my colleagues have already been convicted while the investigation is still ongoing.’

De Clercq was one of just a handful of officers willing to make a statement to the media. 

Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, of the German Green party, told the EU Parliament on Wednesday that she was pushed and grabbed by four officers on Tuesday after she began to film police harassing two young black people outside the Gare du Nord

Police officers take part in a protest against accusations of racism in front of the Justice Palace in Brussels, Belgium, on 19 June

A Belgian police officer raises handcuffs as part of a national protest action of local and federal police forces, in front of the Brussels Justice Palace

Today’s protest was organised by the Police Unifying Movement (PUM), which invited officers throughout Charleroi, Liege, Seraign and Namur took take simultaneous action. 

The May 25 death of black American George Floyd in police custody has led to weeks of protests in the United States against racism and policy brutality, and prompted more European citizens to challenge discrimination in society.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday told the parliament she was aware of the lack of black staff and commissioners in the bloc’s executive.

‘The time has come for us to do more than just … condemn racism, we have to take this opportunity to talk about racism openly and frankly,’ von der Leyen said.

Police officers take part in a protest against accusations of racism in front of the Justice Palace in Brussels, Belgium, on 19 June

Activists remove a statue of Belgium’s King Leopold II in Brussels days after another one was taken away in Antwerp due to anti-racism vandalism 

by Amelia Wynne 

Activists removed a statue of Belgium’s King Leopold II in Brussels last week, days after another had been taken down in Antwerp. 

The figure was removed from its plinth on June 11 leaving an empty stand in the Auderghem neighbourhood. Photos show the separated bust on the floor nearby covered in red paint. 

Leopold owned the Belgian Congo as his personal property from 1885 to 1908 and subjected its people to forced labour while he exploited the country’s rubber reserves – leading to millions of deaths in what some regard as a genocide.  

Statues of the colonial-era monarch have become a focus of anger and debate in Belgium amid worldwide protests that followed the killing of black American George Floyd on May 25.

A statue of former Belgian King Leopold II sprayed with a graffiti is seen in the park of the Africa Museum, in Tervuren, near Brussels, Belgium, June 9, 2020 

A number of representations of Leopold II have been vandalised, with statues burnt and daubed in red paint.

On Tuesday a statue of Leopold was taken down in Antwerp after it was vandalised by protesters. The mayor’s office said the statue was removed to be ‘restored’ after it was daubed with paint, but said it was unlikely to return to its public pedestal.   

Separately, a statue of King Baudouin – Belgium’s second-longest reigning monarch after Leopold II – was found smeared bright red in a park in front of Brussels’ Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula last Friday. The word ‘reparation’ was painted on the back.

‘This is not how we proceed in a democracy. This is not how we put history back on the right track,’ Auderghem Mayor Didier Gosuin told RTBF. ‘On the contrary, these are acts which shock, which block, which create tensions, conflicts.’

A picture taken on June 10, 2020 shows the defaced statue of King Leopold II of Belgium in Brussels

Gosuin said the municipality of Auderghem had a few days ago removed a sentence from a memorial that honoured ‘those who brought civilization to Congo’.      

There had previously been separate calls to take down Leopold monuments in Brussels, where one of his busts was covered in red paint last week. 

Leopold is honoured with several monuments after ruling Belgium from 1865 to 1909, the longest reign in the kingdom’s history. 

But his exploitation of the Congo Free State is seen as brutal even by the standards of the time, with millions thought to have died under Leopold’s personal rule. 

Leopold amassed a huge personal fortune while the Congolese were killed or savagely maimed working on his rubber plantations.

Locals who failed to produce enough rubber would have their hands chopped off or their women taken hostage until the target was met. Others were shot dead. 


Activists removed a statue of Belgium’s King Leopold II in Brussels last week, days after another had been taken down in Antwerp. 

A plinth of a statue of former Belgian King Leopold II, a controversial figure in the history of Belgium, is pictured after the statue was removed in Brussels

The plunder of resources also included ivory, copper and diamonds, while Leopold even imported some Congolese people to be put on show at a ‘human zoo’ in Belgium.    

Other looted treasures were put on display at the Africa Museum in Brussels, which Leopold used as a ‘propaganda tool’ for his colonial project. 

American writer Adam Hochschild claimed in his 1998 book King Leopold’s Ghost that the death toll from Leopold’s policies was as high as 10million Congolese. 

In fiction, the Belgian Congo provided the backdrop for Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad’s classic novel on colonial exploitation.

The exploitation made Belgium a successful trading economy, but sparked an outcry which has been described as one of the world’s first major human rights campaigns. 

After the atrocities came to light, Leopold was eventually stripped of personal ownership of the Congo in 1908. 

However, Congo did not become independent until 1960 and many Belgians remain uninformed about their country’s colonial past.  

While the former king and some of his most notorious lieutenants are still honoured in street names and statues, protests have been growing over his legacy.

More than 64,000 people had signed a petition demanding that Brussels take down its Leopold II statues.  

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