Rumburk: Romani children's club or patrols would reinforce segregation
A round table was held in the Czech town of Rumburk on Wednesday evening between representatives of the town leadership, the Romani community, and Josef Mašín of the "Civic Resistance" initiative (Občanský odpor). Representatives of the Czech Police, municipal police and other municipal authorities were also present. The aim of the meeting was to identify the problems that are harming coexistence between the Romani community and the majority society and to try to find solutions to them.
Led by Jan Demeter, chair of the newly-established Romani Association of Rumburk (Romské sdružení Rumburk), Romani locals presented several of their ideas for working with the Romani community. Their primary desire was to create permanent Romani patrols deputized by the Municipal Police to make sure the law is upheld in their community. They also requested a commercial space to rent for use as a club for Romani children.
"The idea of a club for Romani children does not strike us as correct, for several reasons," explained the Vice-Mayor of Rumburk, Ladislav Pokorný. "In the first place, we already have a large number of facilities for children in Rumburk which Romani children can attend without any problems. In the second place, we do not believe it would be good for Romani parents to once again isolate their children from the majority society - for them to voluntarily segregate themselves. On the contrary, we are asking that they actively involve their children in the children's collectives here, starting with nursery school, that they sign them up for hobby groups and sports clubs. If a Romani club were to be set up here, intended only for Romani children once more, we would never be able to break down the walls and bridge the gulf between us, to get rid of mistrust and prejudice."
Representatives of the municipality and both the local and state police also rejected the idea of Romani patrols. Miroslav Jeřábek, director of the Municipal Police, explained that such patrols would have no powers under the law for enforcing and maintaining order. "We definitely welcome the fact that Romani people have pacified the situation in their community through their responsible approach during the past month and helped us to calm the public in Rumburk as a whole. We will be very glad to cooperate with them further, but certainly a better solution would be for Romani people to became full-fledged members of the police force should they meet all the prerequisites. The creation of voluntary patrols by Romani people would be the same as if the majority part of society here were to set up a militia - we cannot allow citizens to take the law and the delivery of punishment into their own hands, not even with the best intentions," Jeřábek explained. He offered to give a series of lectures and trainings to Romani children and youth on the difference between loans and theft, misdemeanors and felonies, and the punishments resulting from violations of the law.
In the end, everyone agreed that active participation by Romani representatives in the social services coordination meetings led by the Social Affairs Department of the Rumburk Town Hall is necessary. The meetings should be held once a month and should lead to closer cooperation between the Romani community and the department and to the breaking down of barriers and problems.
"We imagine our cooperation with Romani representatives as follows: They will focus on the Romani community and lead Romani families to take a more responsible approach toward their own children and their education. We can help them, but we can't do it for them. They have to do it themselves now," Mayor Jaroslav Sykáček emphasized.
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