Rotterdam, Leeuwarden, The Hague, Stein, Roermond, Urk, Bunschoten, Spakenburg, Katwijk, Roosendaal, Groningen and Roermond. In all these cities and villages, the street last weekend was badly wrong, with Rotterdam as the low point. There, a peaceful demonstration was hijacked by people seeking confrontation. That followed, with the police initially cornered. Which resulted in injuries from police bullets.
Such a violent escalation is rare, if ever – just as easily there could have been deaths this weekend among passers-by, police officers, protesters or rioters. That would have crossed a line that is almost too difficult to face. Threats of deadly violence have become so common in the public domain that the fear of it happening is palpable. It’s almost no longer if it will happen, but when – and who will it affect.
The situation in the Netherlands is grim, a result of polarization about the pandemic, the crisis of confidence among citizens and government, and a hesitant outgoing cabinet that intervenes strongly in freedoms but has difficulty with proportion and timing. Nor does it excel in effectiveness or thoroughness.
Then there are the dire shortages in hospitals. IC doctor Diederik Gommers thinks that ‘the army’ will soon have to come and protect the healthcare staff. Calling the army is usually a sign of desperation: more rhetoric than practical ingenuity. But it does contribute to an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. The police expect a restless week.
All weekend there was rioting, fireworks, vandalism, fighting with the police, arson. This resulted in injured police officers, dozens of arrests and extensive damage. At the start of the curfew, there was already talk of a similar wave of street violence. This outbreak may be a response to the tightened corona measures: limited catering opening hours, no stadium visit, further vaccination urge with a prospect of 2G. Or further curtailing freedom rights.
Add to this Friday’s fireworks ban, which the cabinet would not have wanted at first, but the mayors did. And the unrest, perhaps frustration about a possible lockdown in the near future. The fumbling with the fireworks ban is especially irritating. Not at first, then – at least that gives the impression that it hasn’t been thought through properly. And so arbitrary, painful for those for whom this is important.
The violence this weekend was totally reprehensible – that many underage youth took part is more than worrisome. During such a period, parents can be expected to impose a curfew on their underage youth themselves. The situation on the streets is too dangerous, the police too threatened by coalitions of violent radicalized citizens, football hooligans, rioters and unsorted followers. The task of the police is to mute, de-escalate, intervene and arrest if necessary. Public support for this is widespread. The police must now be given that space, including from drivers. They themselves face the difficult task of containing the health crisis, possibly with even stricter measures. It is hoped that they will be clear, simple and understandable for everyone.
And above all: apply equally to everyone as much as possible. So that the squabbling of those who happen to feel disproportionately affected no longer translates so easily into unacceptable street riots.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of November 23, 2021
#Riots #grim #country #waiting #victim