It’s nothing till somebody kills you
Yesterday night while checking the Twitter timeline of Egbert Martina (@wearebots) for new articles, I spotted a conversation between him, professor Christina Sharpe (@hystericalblkns) and a young Black man who tried to tell her that Dutch cops aren’t violent against Black people. His analysis? “Some of them play arrogant but that’s all they do.” Aside from affirming that Clarence Thomas has sons all over the place, the Brother’s untrue, utterly problematic and insanely lazy statement proves at least one thing: our definitions of violence need work.
Is Holland haunted by images of Black bodies swinging in the Amsterdam breeze? Did any of the Dutch cities ever carry a Mississippi Goddamn in their drinking water or created what Nina Simone, while introducing ‘Feelings’, once described as “the conditions that produced the situation that demanded a song like that”? No. Can any of the Dutch provinces ‘hang’ with Florida when it comes to laws that kill and jurors that acquit? Is there a Dutch Zimmerman? Also, no. But should these be our only definitions of violence? “Flesh covered bullets or it didn’t happen!”… is this the blood spattered feather against which we weigh the hearts of the people who represent the Dutch government?
The anti-Black violence of the Dutch police and other government bodies who’re here to keep/create ‘order’ is usually displayed as a more verbal, psychological form of racism. I remember being in a magazine store in the Bijlmer (Amsterdam’s Caribbean and African neighbourhood which is being gentrified with the speed of Brooklyn) when a troop of police officers barged in looking for what they called “illegals”. They used the rudest words and body language to keep new customers from entering the store and put those who were already inside in what they considered ‘their place’. One Black woman confronted the officers with their demeaning approach. They made it very clear that “nobody in this fucking neighborhood should have the gall to say anything about good manners.” After she left they continued to loudly analyze the “uncivilized nature” of the people who live there and who will forever fail to understand that Amsterdam isn’t “the banana republic they’re used to.” Meanwhile their colleagues insulted and intimidated the owner and his employees.
From what I have seen and learned from the politically active Sisters and Brothers who have lived here longer than I have, this is a pretty accurate representation of how white police officers cowboy their way around the Bijlmer. It would surprise me if it’s different in the Black neighborhoods in cities like Rotterdam or The Hague and I’m not even talking about how they ‘value’ the Black inhabitants of predominantly white cities and villages. Am I comparing our run ins with Holland’s finest to the horrors that were unleashed on the bodies of Abner Louima and the thousands of Black men and women whose stories didn’t become headlines or hashtags? Absolutely not. Did the cops who took over the store stormed in there guns blazing talking about this being “Giuliani time”? No. But is this the only thing that separates the Justin Volpe’s from every cop that could have been part of the Police Academy franchise? Should violence be an all or nothing thing?
How non-violent are the forces that serve a nation that considers racism subject to taste, humor, sensitivity and sometimes even paranoia? How ‘Black folk friendly’ are the cops who’re in the business of making a country that is or at least should be known for its murderous asylum regime that justifies the most obsessive methods to hunt down, lock up and deport African refugees a “safer place”? What about Fred Teeven, State Secretary for Security and Justice (which kind of makes him the grand wizard of the Dutch police forces) who is always crying about budget cuts but didn’t think twice about dragging Cheikh Bah and Issa Koulibaly (two Guinean asylum seekers who were on a hungerstrike and haven’t had solid food in 70+ days) on a specially rented charter plane to deport them to Guinea? What about Holland being so outrageously xenophobic that the European High Court had to step in and cancel their planned deportation of the Somali men and women who fled from a war torn country? What about the excessive force that’s being used to “controle” (either on the spot or on their way to the overused solitary) West, East or Central African asylum seekers or the ease with which they are thrown out on the street again with nowhere to go, a couple of euros and the promise to leave Holland within 5 days after the IND decided they’re sick of ‘em?
Perhaps what the young man was trying to say is that he can’t remember the last time he or his Black friends were kicked in the liver by a police officer who yelled racial slurs or that there are no stories of white Dutch cops thundering 41 bullets at an unarmed Black man. Maybe to him, “no violence” means that his sisters or aunties were never pulled over by the police only to be shot twice and framed for crimes they didn’t commit. Or it means that he’s unfamiliar with the Ramadan shifts of the Amsterdam police forces or the philosophies behind the “random frisking” of certain people in very specific neighborhoods. But the most frightening possibility of all is that he meant exactly what he said which basically proves that Holland is doing an excellent job covering up its racist assaults. Not so much by being super subtle but by successfully lulling us into a passive state of okay-ness because “at least it’s not that bad!” NL has successfully conditioned too many Black people (and trust me, even one is too many) to believe that anything that isn’t modeled after the American blueprints of racially motivated assaults doesn’t deserve to be qualified as “violence against Black people”.
Let it be known that whatever the Dutch version of anti-Black violence “lacks” in physicality, it compensates with its intolerable levels of social, verbal, economic and intellectual assaults against the African and Afrodiasporic communities who live here. It is everywhere every day and we are losing precious time and brain cells trying to feed these hierarchies of oppression, racism and/or relevance by entertaining ourselves with wondering who got it worse.