Commentary: Czech Police not living up to their motto
Even though I have long had no illusions about how that notorious motto of the Czech Police, "To assist and protect", can sometimes work in practice, during Saturday's demonstrations on Wenceslas Square I could not believe my eyes. Honor is of course due to the officers who kept the enraged, fanatical neo-Nazis away from the people expressing solidarity with refugees that evening (which is, after all, their job), but I would like to discuss my experience with those of their colleagues who did not lift a finger when I directly asked them for assistance.
When the procession of those opposed to receiving refugees, led by Jan Jiskra, set off from the statue of St. Václav to march through Prague up to the castle, I went along to take photos. The marchers were shouting nationalist slogans, some of them were pointing their fingers at obvious foreigners passing by, and some emphatically shouted their recommendation that a lady in a burka "take off that headscarf!"
As the march began heading down Vítězná Street, a man tottered over and asked what I would be doing later with the pictures I was taking. "I'll download them and look at them," I said calmly.
"Why are you photographing me?" he wanted to know. I explained that this was a public event and that I was not photographing him specifically.
The man insisted that he wanted to see the photographs because he might be in them. I showed him the last few shots I had taken.
He "found" himself, which was rather amusing, because he was pointing to something smaller than the head of pin, taken from behind, about which nothing other than that it was a human head could be distinguished. I wanted to end our debate, so I told him he could not be recognized from the photo and that he could not and would not force me to delete it.
I kept on walking. He followed me.
While ordering me to show him all the photos, he pushed against me with his shoulder and did his best to force me to the side, away from everyone else in the crowd. He was trying to slow us down and began preventing me from moving forward at all.
That's enough, friend, I said to myself, and I went to ask the nearest police officer to explain the situation to the gentleman. They took an interest in us for a moment, and an officer explained to the man that he had no right to see my photos and that if he had a problem, he should contact the police spokesperson.
That officer then continued to keep pace with the march. "You heard him, let's go see the police spokesperson," the man insisted.
I explained that he was the one with a problem, not me, and I politely asked him to go his own way so we could end the absurd debate. He toughened his insistence, pressed against me, and pushed me aside more vehemently than the first time.
There was a tram coming towards us and a police van behind us. I got angry and we began arguing - he was addressing me disrespectfully, I was also no longer polite, we were shoving each other, and all the while the cops in the car behind us remained unwaveringly calm and never responded.
I managed to avoid getting run over by the tram, but by now I really wanted to end this foolishness and go my own way. The guy caught up with me, he was at my heels, and then he pushed us both into a side street heading away from the march.
As the march slowly disappeared I saw four police officers walking by. I ran up to them and asked for help, explaining not only that the gentleman was bothering me because of the photos, but mainly that he was following me and trying to physically separate me from everyone else.
While the cops did seem to be listening a bit, not a one of them ever stopped moving. I was running after them like a dog, breathlessly asking what I should do, but they maintained their stoic calm.
The pest detached himself from me and did his best to catch up with the march as if nothing had ever happened. "So he's up ahead of you - I'll go to the other side now, but will you watch out to see if he comes after me again?" I asked the officers.
They said nothing. Not one word.
They wouldn't even look at me. I couldn't believe it.
You can find pests and provocateurs anywhere, and basically anything can happen at events of that type. However, I still cannot believe that at a march full of police officers you can't even get their attention with a direct request - to say nothing of their assistance - when someone is physically threatening you.
What happened to the police motto? Did it take a vacation?
The author of this commentary has asked to remain anonymous (the editors know her name).
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