Black Lives Matter sees 14,000 people protesting across the country

Summary

Thousands of people took to the streets in several cities across Belgium at the weekend to protest in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement

This has ‘woken people up’

Some 14,000 people joined Black Lives Matter protests across Belgium at the weekend. The largest was in Brussels, where 10,000 protested around the Justice Palace on Sunday.

The protests were organised by Belgian Youth Against Racism (BYAR) and the Belgian Network for Black Lives (BNFBL) to condemn racism and police violence. The events are in solidarity with the major protests currently taking place across the US in the wake of the death of African-American George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in the city of Minneapolis.

“The murder of George Floyd in the US has woken people up,” said Ange Kaze of BNFBL, which organised the Brussels protest. “So many people are sick of the police violence systematically used against black people.”

Some 1,200 joined in the official protest in Antwerp on Sunday, and another 700 on Saturday for a loosely organised protest announced via social media. In Ghent, about 750 gathered, with 700 coming together in Liège and a few hundred more in Hasselt, Halle and Ostend.

Protests not approved

Only the protest in Halle was officially approved by the city. The requests for the rest were either rejected or unanswered – the latter a sign that they will be tolerated if not officially approved.

Many city councils pointed to the inability to respect social distancing as the reason why the protests were not approved. Most of the protesters wore masks, but social distancing was in fact impossible to maintain in the larger cities.

While the Brussels event passed peacefully, there were violent scenes afterwards in the Matonge district, where protestors attacked police cars with bottles and paving stones, set fire to bins, smashed windows and looted shops. Police dispersed the crowd with water cannons and arrested some 150 people.

“We are sad and sorry,” said a BNFBL spokesperson. “This has nothing to do with the event we organised.”

I have the feeling that people are finally talking about the pain this causes, that we are finally visible

- Protestor Sarah Limanya

In Antwerp, the crowd gathered on Steenplein. This protest also went smoothly under the watchful eye of the police, who kept their distance. “I’m really touched by the solidarity being shown this weekend,” protestor Sarah Limanya told De Standaard. “I have the feeling that people are finally talking about the pain this causes, that we are finally visible in this society.”

She hopes that this is the beginning rather than the end of the conversation, she continued. “People say that the situation here isn’t the same as in the US, but racism is a deeply rooted global system, and it is all connected. There is also a lot of work to be done in the fight against racism in Belgium.”

Like in Brussels, some protestors acted independently after the official event, moving on to Groenplaats, where the police intervened as social distancing was not respected. About 150 people were detained and will be fined, according to police.


Politicians and virologists, meanwhile, were concerned about the consequences in the struggle to contain the coronavirus. “The cause is just – there is no doubt about that,” prime minister Sophie Wilmès posted to Twitter. “But looking at the images, I regret that it wasn’t possible to find an alternative that respects health regulations and the efforts of those on the frontline, fighting against the epidemic.”

Virologist Marc Van Ranst told De Morgen that if the demonstration had taken place six months ago, he would probably have taken part himself. But now “such a demonstration is dangerous,” he said. “I can say with certainty that the virus was passed on in that crowd today. This would have been life-threatening two months ago. Now hopefully its consequences are limited.”

Photos, from top: The crowd in Brussels ©Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA; people became emotional during speeches in Antwerp ©Dirk Waem/BELGA