AMSTERDAM--Violence broke out in The Hague on Monday as police clashed with protesters demonstrating against the death of a man from the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba after he was arrested by police at a music festival.
About 200 people marched to a police station in the Schilderswijk neighbourhood on Monday night. The protesters threw rocks and police charged the crowd with truncheons. It was not immediately clear if there were injuries. Earlier, Dutch prosecutors launched an inquiry into the man's death.
Videos posted on social media showed him pinned to the ground by five white male Dutch officers, prompting comparisons with incidents in the United States that have led to protests and riots over police use of force against black suspects. Prosecutors initially said in a statement on Sunday the 42-year-old "became unwell on the way to jail" and was taken to hospital in a critical condition.
In the videos, one officer can be seen using choke-hold to subdue the man, identified by media in the Netherlands and Aruba as Mitch Henriquez. He appears to be unconscious before being loaded into a police van. One officer is seen checking for a pulse.
The protest on Monday night turned ugly after nine o'clock, when police refused to enter into a dialogue with the protesters outside the station. Protestors walked to the side of the police station and threatened a small group of officers. After that stones and other debris was thrown at the officers and the police station after which the riot police intervened. A water cannon and police dogs were deployed.
The protestors subsequently spread out over the neighbourhood. Incidents were reported till deep into the night.
Henriquez was visiting his family in the Netherlands. He fell severely ill after he was arrested Saturday night at the Night at the Park music festival in The Hague's Zuiderpark. He passed away at a hospital on Sunday evening. The National Detectives have initiated an investigation under the auspices of the Prosecutor's Office in The Hague to determine whether there is a relation between Henriquez's arrest and the handling of the police officers.
According to a press release of the Prosecutor's Office, the victim was arrested after he had shouted that he was carrying a weapon. This wasn't the case, it appeared after his arrest. "The man resisted arrest and that is why police used force to take him to the police station. What happened after that is being investigated," it was stated.
Stills of videos taken by witnesses show at least four police officers forcing the victim to the ground and cuffing him. Other photos taken of him at the hospital showed that the man had been dealt harsh blows, as his face was all swollen.
Two witnesses were seen on Monday placing a rose on the spot where Henriquez was arrested. "I saw how the man, who was already on his belly on the ground, was being hit on the head with a police bat, while five policemen were constraining him," one witness said.
The Prosecutor's Office initially stated on Sunday that Henriquez had become ill in the ambulance. On Monday, it was reported that this may not have been the case. The Prosecutor has decided to order an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death, it was announced on Monday. The National Detectives are calling on witnesses to come forward with information. Henriquez's death was national news in the Netherlands on Monday.
The Hague Mayor Jozias van Aartsen said on Monday he wants a "careful, critical, but also speedy investigation, so it becomes clear within the shortest possible time what exactly happened." He has sent his condolences to the family and has offered to speak with them. "I will offer them all possible assistance," Van Aartsen said.
People were encouraged through social media to take part in a protest demonstration at a police station in The Hague on Monday evening. The group is demanding justice. "As you have heard, our brother Mitch Henriquez died during his vacation in the Netherlands due to violent behaviour of The Hague's Police Force. It is up to us citizens to make it known that we don't accept this," it was stated on Facebook.
About 200 people marched to the police station on Monday night. The protesters threw rocks and riot police charged the crowd with truncheons. It was not immediately clear if there were injuries.
Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk in the meantime has called Aruba Prime Minister Mike Eman and Aruba Minister Plenipotentiary in The Hague Alfonso Boekhoudt in relation to the incident.
"The Minister has assured the Minister Plenipotentiary that an independent investigation will be carried out by the National Detectives to shed light on what transpired. He hopes that clarity will be provided within short," it was stated in a brief press statement of Minister Plasterk.
The Aruba Government stated in a press release via the Cabinet of the Minister Plenipotentiary that it demanded an impartial investigation into the arrest and the force that was used to constrain Henriquez.
"The Cabinet doesn't have all details on what happened, but one thing is sure: all details must become known. The family of the victim has every right to know what happened and why," it was stated in a release.
Minister Boekhoudt has been in contact with the Prosecutor's Office in The Hague.
Prime Minister Eman and Boekhoudt have also been in constant touch since Sunday when they were informed of the incident to coordinate the contact with the authorities in the Netherlands and the victim's family.
According to Aruba's opposition party MEP, the incident has severely shocked the island community. The party sent a letter to the Dutch Government on Monday in which it demanded a thorough investigation.
USM observes silence
Locally, University of St. Martin (USM) faculty observed a moment of silence for Henriquez on Monday morning, and together reflected on the event. Students will be asked to do the same on Tuesday evening.
Dean of Academics/Interim President Dr. Francio Guadeloupe published a statement on social media Monday morning, announcing USM's intentions to hold a moment of silence and denouncing the incident.
He later told this newspaper that representatives of other Universities in the Netherlands, such as the major universities of Amsterdam, Nijmegen, Erasmus Rotterdam, Utrecht and Groningen also made public statements, and that he hopes the Universities of Aruba and Curaçao would do the same.
He holds the same hopes for the governments of St. Maarten, Aruba and Curaçao.
Dr. Guadeloupe said the main feeling the faculty had towards the incident was shock, both at the fact that it happened in the Netherlands and that the Prosecution tried to hide the story until footage posted on social media countered its version of events. In line with the widespread reaction, it was compared to the recent police brutality stories which have made headlines in the United States.
"This is not about privileging the nearby...for the less nearby..." his post read. "This is about institutions of education in this section of the human village taking responsibility for the terrain we can fully influence: the Kingdom of the Netherlands....
"...Next to Reading, wRiting and aRithmatic – the so-called 3 Rs, and encouraging students to graduate with honours – it is high time that educational institutions foreground the three Ds: Decolonisation, Decency and Democratic ethics geared towards respecting and enhancing human life."