Youths yell Gypsies to the gas, Czech police say it’s not a crime
“There has been enough racism” – that was the topic being discussed in mid-June 2009 by 30 Romani children from Přelouč, Pardubice, Hradec Králové and Brno as part of a debate competition organized by the Debate Club Association of the Czech Republic at the Radost recreation center in Horní Jelení. The topic was to become especially significant for the young debaters. On Saturday 13 June 2009 at around 10 PM they were verbally attacked with racist insults from youths seated at a restaurant near the center. “The reality encountered by Romani children today and every day confirms the fact that the extreme right is prevalent in the Czech Republic. The debate competition was being held in a pleasant atmosphere until a bunch of drunken juvenile delinquents disturbed the peace by swearing at the children and the lecturers and vandalizing property immediately adjacent to the center where the children were staying,” says Jan Müller, vice-chair of the Darjav Association and one of the organizers of the debating club.
Police take strange action
Organizers had prepared a “walk of courage” for the children that evening. The young debaters were supposed to walk down a designated path in threes. As one of these threesomes was returning from the path, racist slogans started up from the front garden of a nearby restaurant, “U čarodějnice”. Witnesses say most of the youths yelling were also drunk. “They yelled slogans at the children such as ‘Gypsies to the gas’, ‘Get out of here you black mugs’, or ‘Let’s go get the niggers!’ About 15 young people were sitting there, most of them guys between 15 and 20, but there were also girls with them,” Müller recalls.
The organizers reported the assailants’ behavior to the police by calling 158. A patrol was sent out from Holice, but instead of taking the names of the assailants, police told the victims to take action against the assailants themselves. “Some of the youths yelling at the Romani children evidently sympathized with neo-Nazism. We could tell because of the symbols one of them had on the back of his jacket. The police, however, did not take note of these indications even though we drew them to their attention. When one of our girls noticed the symbols, a police officer said to her: ‘Run over there and catch him for us’,” Müller says.
As private individuals, the organizers understandably had no right to take any action against the assailants. “We justifiably requested protection from the Czech Police, but the police officers told us on the spot that what had happened was no big deal. After the police arrived, a girl and boy came over to us and apologized that their friends had been giving the Nazi salute and yelling insults. The two patrol officers heard their apology, but when we asked them to take the witnesses’ names, they said, ‘Why should we? They didn’t do anything.’ They then let both witnesses leave to go into the forest after the others,” Müller says. After another 15 minutes, the youth who had apologized for his friends’ behavior returned. When the officers asked him what he had heard, he told them, “Yeah, that all happened, but I won’t testify.” The patrol asked to see his identification and he refused, saying, “I won’t show you anything because I’m afraid, I’ve been drinking alcohol and I’m not 18 yet.” The officers let him go once again without getting his name. The adult Roma then gave their contact information to the police, who said they would be kept informed as to the course of the investigation.
Police had to be called three times before they arrived. In the meantime, fearing the assailants might throw something through the ground-floor windows, the debate club organizers had to move the terrified children up to the first floor of the building. “The police really did not behave professionally,” Jan Müller recalls bitterly.
Racism as a misdemeanor
“Criminal charges were filed against unidentified perpetrators,” says lawyer František Valeš, formerly of the In Iustitia organization. Valeš is providing the victims legal aid with financial support from ROMEA. He says the debate club organizers were so dissatisfied with the police response they decided to file a complaint with the directorate of the East Bohemian Regional Police. “However, the police inspectorate found the officers did nothing wrong and had proceeded according to regulations,” the lawyer tells news server Romea.cz.
“The file was transferred to the state prosecutor and decisions were made about what to do next. The case will be decided on after all of the information is collected,” Eva Maturová, spokesperson for the East Bohemian Police, announced after the charges were filed. Officers did not contact anyone from the Darjav Association for a very long time afterward; they never compiled a protocol or asked for statements. “It’s not that the police have let the matter rest. They are investigating the case,” said Radovan Sablík, spokesperson for the Pardubice Police. The officers later shelved the investigation, saying no crime had been committed. The matter will be handled by the town hall in Horní Jelení as a misdemeanor, and the racists could face fines.
“We are of the opinion that this was a felony, not a misdemeanor. We hoped the lawyers assisting us would give the whole thing some weight in the eyes of the police and the state prosecutor, but the police and the state prosecutor don’t care,” Müller says. However, the Darjav Association will not be filing another complaint against the police. “We are afraid that someone might attack the children if the case were to be re-opened. Those verbal attacks were repeated, the children and the lecturers felt deeply injured and offended by them. The children are terror-stricken by them to this day, they are constantly afraid that a verbal attack might turn into a physical one,” Müller explains.
Their lawyer was also unpleasantly surprised by the police decision. “As the attorney for the victims (the Darjav Association instructors), I was present when they were deposed. Given the determination of the facts, particularly the victims’ repeated testimony of having been verbally attacked, it was completely evident to me that the restaurant guests had committed a felony, or at a minimum had demonstrably defamed an ethnic group in the sense of paragraph 198 of the penal code. We can assume some of the perpetrators were juveniles, but that is not a sufficiently strong reason to shelve a criminal prosecution. The result of this case is that the victims of this crime have not received even minimal satisfaction from the assailants, and the perpetrators have not been shown what the limits of harassment are,” Valeš says.
According to Valeš, the only effect of the victims’ justified request for protection has been that they have had to participate in an investigation which has taken the better part of a year and to track down witnesses on their own initiative. This has meant constantly returning to the incident and the concerns and traumas it provoked, particularly in the children. “The criminal justice system in this case has shown that it marginalizes verbal violence motivated by hatred and has given up on taking the impact of such violence on the victims into account,” Valeš concludes.
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