In solidarity with the BLM movement in the US, at the beginning of June in Belgium 1,200 people gathered in Antwerp, 750 in Ghent and 200 in Hasselt. In Brussels, between 10,000 and 12,000 people gathered at Place Poelaert, in front of the Palace of Justice. They were addressed by undocumented migrants demanding regularisation; families of the victims of police killings; anti-racist activists and others. Several highlighted the past crimes of Belgian colonialism and the fact that Belgian governments refuse to acknowledge and address them.
Up to 15 million people are estimated to have died under the brutal colonialist regime that Leopold II instituted in the Congo. A public debate is now raging over the removal of his statue from buildings across the country. Crowds were multicultural and multi-gender, with young people predominant.
Their placards carried slogans against racism and sexism and in support of LGBTQI+ rights. Everybody wanted to speak up. The most popular slogans were ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘I can’t breathe’, but others included: ‘Human rights are not privileges’; ‘White silence is violence’; ‘Racism is a pandemic, be the vaccine’, and so on.
The protesters chanted “No justice, no peace”, “Police everywhere, Justice nowhere”, and “Police killers”, and called for justice for George Floyd and all of the others killed by police over the recent past. Demonstrators and organisers were aware that the pandemic is not over and many masks were distributed to ensure maximum security.
The preparation of the demonstration had been an opportunity to discuss the importance of supporting the self-organisation of black and Afro-descendent people, while allowing a wider gathering in solidarity with all victims of police violence. Despite organisational difficulties, communities came together to denounce all forms of racism — negrophobia, islamophobia, anti-Semitism, romaphobia, anti-Asian racism and so on.
In Brussels, as in Paris and elsewhere, police violence has been on the increase, especially during demonstrations. The Brussels demonstration took place peacefully, despite some provocation. But at the end, mounted police cordoned off the only possible exit. Police also drove their vans at speed through the crown with sirens screaming, provoking skirmishes.
The country’s lockdown, now in ‘Phase 3’ of being lifted with hotels and bars reopening, had seen numerous racist acts by the police, including the death of a young man riding a moped. Anger is quite legitimate in the face of this repression.
The violence and riots in Brussels that followed the demonstration were the consequence of a racist and extremely unequal society defended by the police. On the very day of the demonstration, five hooded police beat Mounaime, 19, a migrant from Maghreb, North Africa. Members of Gauche anticapitaliste continue to demand that light be shed on this violence and that justice be done.
(With thanks to comrades from Gauche Anti-Capitaliste)