Czech Republic: Roma claim police apply double standard
Fear of going out onto the street alone, terror after being threatened with having one's throat cut and run over by a car, a feeling of hopelessness that neither the police nor anyone else can guarantee justice and the right to a dignified life. Police indifference to Romani residents and sympathy for the local skinhead brawlers who terrorize Roma living in the Czech town of Kadaň - all of this is leading local Romani residents to feel that a double standard applies to law and order there.
A modern, pleasant little town
A random tourist or visitor might see Kadaň as a rather modernly-functioning, pleasant small town with many interesting historical memorials, parks and picturesque spots by the river Ohře. Once a royal town and sometimes floridly called "the historical gem of the Ore Mountains" (Krušné hory), at first glance the town seems to have a pleasant atmosphere and its councillors seem open to the interests of local people, as can be seen, for example, by the recent reconstruction of several children's playgrounds there.
For some local Romani residents, however, everyday life in Kadaň has become a nightmare. These people fear the violence committed by anti-Romani gangs of skinhead "athletes" with pumped-up muscles, as well as their racist abuse and insults.
Local Roma have the feeling that everyone else is indifferent to their problems. Moreover, when something happens, they cannot access justice.
Metal baseball bat to the eye
D.B. is a Romani resident of Kadaň who called the ROMEA organization's hotline to report such feelings. His story provides a glimpse of the rough reality hidden beneath the lovely scenery of the town.
Everything began about a year and a half ago, when D.B.'s older brother went to the Laguna discotheque and D.B. then went there to get him just after midnight. "Everything was calm, at midnight the DJ said that since we were all having such a good time he would keep going for another 15 minutes and then go home," says 21-year-old D.B.
"Less than two minutes later we had finished our beer and were leaving when my brother ran into an acquaintance of his by the exit and started talking with him. M.H., who worked at the discotheque as a bouncer, walked up and punched my brother in the back of the head without warning. My brother fell to the ground. A brawl broke out," he says.
D.B. claims he did his best just to push the aggressor and his friends away from his brother in order to save him. Two of D.B.'s neighbors did their best to do the same.
Together they ultimately led D.B.'s shaken brother outside. However, the attack against them continued there.
As D.B. and his other Romani acquaintances were leaving the building, they heard the stomping of heavy boots behind them. M.H. was running after them with a metal baseball bat and trying to hit D.B.'s brother in the head again.
D.B. pushed his brother aside and took the blow to the head himself, which knocked him to the ground. He was seriously shaken and his eye, which the bat had partially struck, was swollen.
None of his shaken friends understood why these people, with whom they had never had any previous conflicts, were brutally assaulting them. When they made it home, they found the aggressor and a bunch of about 20 well-muscled guys waiting for them in front of the entrance to their apartment building.
"We were afraid, we didn't know what we were supposed to do. They cursed us as black swine, they yelled that they were calling us to account and that they would kill us. They shouted racist abuse and broke the glass in the front door to the building. Our mother saw it from the window and called the police, but they didn't get there until half an hour later, which was an endlessly long time for us. When the police officers arrived, they didn't even ask all those guys to identify themselves - they just said hello to them as if they were all old pals and told them to get out of there fast," D.B. recalls the horrible experience.
Police: They brought it on themselves
When the police officers saw that D.B. was injured, they told him to go to the doctor in the morning, which he did. Allegedly they did not communicate with him otherwise.
At the surgery clinic, a doctor told D.B. that he was lucky to be alive, because if the baseball bat had struck him just a little more toward his temple, the results could have been tragic. Fortunately, he was ultimately officially incapacitated "only" for seven days; he can see and the wound has healed.
Once he had recovered, D.B. took his medical report and set out for the local department of the Police of the Czech Republic in good faith, believing they would help him get justice and protect him from the racist violence in his hometown. He miscalculated.
"When I got there and said I wanted to file a criminal report against Mr M.H. for assault and battery, they told me that we ourselves had been to blame, even though I repeatedly did my best to explain that we had been attacked for no reason. The man on duty was a rank-and-file police officer, Mr K., and I know he is a friend of M.H.," explains D.B.
The friendly relationship between Officer K. and M.H. are no secret in Kadaň, according to D.B. Officer K., for example, allegedly helps M.H. in his work as a security guard or as a so-called bouncer at dances and other social events.
Paradoxicaly, the police officers in Kadaň refused to accept D.B.'s criminal report even though D.B. himself had a clean criminal record and the man they were providing cover to, M.H., had already had problems with the law in the past. In this desperate situation, D.B. turned to an attorney.
It was only with her assistance that the police accepted D.B.'s criminal report and began taking action. The result was the conditional sentencing of M.H.
However, under no circumstances was this a happy ending. In the first place, the fact that M.H. was sentenced (if only conditionally) led him to start taking revenge and his aggression continued to escalate.
In the second place, on 1 January 2013 the controversial amnesty of outgoing Czech President Václav Klaus was announced, erasing M.H.'s sentencing. Tensions were exacerbated and M.H.'s threats to kill D.B. escalated.
Knife to the throat
The next incident happened just after the amnesty, which understandably increased M.H.'s self-confidence and lowered his inhibitions. By then he was working as a taxi driver, so he had an overview of who was moving about where in the rather large town.
D. B. began to have the feeling that M. H. was following him. "I was going to visit my sister and I was crossing the street in the crosswalk. I wanted to let the car that was coming toward me pass, but the driver stopped so I could cross. However, once I stepped into the crosswalk, he suddenly accelerated, so I had to jump out of the way. Then the driver put on the brakes and I saw that M.H. was sitting in the car. He put his finger up to his neck and made a gesture showing that he would cut my throat," says D.B.
"He evidently followed me after that, because on my way home from seeing my sister, he was waiting for me in a dark alley behind a tunnel, where he ambushed me and put a knife to my throat. He asked me 'Do you want to die now or later?' I was under terrible stress and begged him not to do it, to let me live. Then, fortunately, some other pedestrians began walked toward us, so he let me go," D.B. claims.
The motivation for these incidents apparently was not racism first and foremost, but revenge for the fact that D.B. had filed a criminal report and had almost sent M.H. to prison. "I fear for my life, which is why I never go out on the street alone so there will be witnesses with me if something happens. I am careful whenever I see a taxi," D.B. confides.
Shoving match in the sandbox
To this fear of M.H. and his anti-Romani gang was then added fear of the police themselves. This was revealed in a rather non-traditional spirit after an argument and shoving match in the sandbox in front of D.B.'s apartment building, an incident reminiscent of the conflict at the children's playground on the Máj housing estate in České Budějovice that became the pretext for an explosion of anti-Romani sentiment in that South Bohemian city.
D.B. claims to have been standing up for his six-year-old nephew, who had been pushed by a 13-year-old boy. That boy's father called the police and then verbally attacked D.B.'s mother, who had seen everything from the window and inserted herself into the argument.
"He threatened to kill my mother and racially insulted all of us. He shouted that we were black swine and that we all stink. We live in a good locality, so it really harmed our reputation for our neighbors to hear that racist abuse - we get along with them without any problems otherwise. We were exposed to terrible shame," D.B. says.
His mother wanted to file a criminal report over the abuse, but police officers allegedly refused to take her statement, roughly rejecting her and covering up the service numbers on their uniforms so she couldn't identify them. On the other hand, they did take down a criminal report against D.B. from the father of the 13-year-old boy.
"I didn't even know he filed a criminal report against me. Police officers were walking around town with my photograph asking passers-by if they had seen me, as if I were some sort of criminal. My neighbors knocked on my door and asked what I did," D.B. claims.
When he arrived at the police department, they allegedly would not allow him to see the protocol on the incident and forced him to sign it without reading it. "The police officer explained that I didn't have the right to read it. He shouted at me that he didn't have time for me, that I had to stop causing problems, and that I had to immediately sign it or things would be even worse. I signed out of fear and under pressure, but I suspect they added things to the protocol that I never said and that are untrue," D.B. says.
Complaint to the Inspector-General of the Security Forces
Events then began to unfold rapidly. An accelerated trial took place with a single judge and D.B. claims he had no opportunity to complain or to change anything.
He was sentenced to three months in prison with one year's probation. He still feels that he is not guilty, and if his interrogation took place as he describes, then his feeling that he was harmed by the way the police conducted their procedure is justified.
D.B. wrote a complaint to the Inspector-General of the Security Forces in Ústí nad Labem. With a bitter smile, he calls the answer he received back from them "ridiculous".
The Inspector-General excused what had occurred as merely an administrative error. "I expected a remedy, but I encountered utter indifference," D.B. says, adding that he is considering taking other legal steps.
Police won't answer questions
Before publishing this piece, I once again contacted the police in Kadaň with a request for a statement on their side of the story, but my efforts were in vain. "Mr D.B.'s complaint has already been reviewed by the enforcement authorities of the Police of the Czech Republic in Ústí nad Labem and the matter is considered closed. You certainly understand that it is not possible for police officers to give a statement on the basis of a phone call to a hotline," the Czech Police wrote in their response to our questions.
After D.B. turned to the ROMEA association's anti-discrimination line, we arrived at the opinion that it was necessary to give him the opportunity to publicize his side of this story, despite the fact that the information in this article has not been independently confirmed. Our experience of similar cases in other towns in Bohemia and Moravia shows that many Romani people are living in similar situations in the Czech Republic that they see no way out of, and publishing their stories and drawing attention to the injustice they face might be a first step toward change.
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