Police in the Czech Republic have come under scrutiny after events on Saturday, when a Romani man died after police kneeled on his neck.
According to Romea.cz, ‘video footage from Teplice, Czech Republic is being massively shared through social media of a police intervention against a young Romani man who later died in the ambulance called to the scene’. This ‘was filmed by a resident from the window of a building overlooking the scene.'
The footage shows three police officers intervening against a man who is resisting. Romani community members are comparing his death to the death of George Floyd, who was murdered by the police in the USA in 2020.
One of the intervening police officers kneeled for several minutes on the Romani man’s neck. The young man later died in the ambulance called to the scene by police.
Romena.cz elaborated further by saying that police say their intervention was not the cause of death, but that the drugs the Romani man is said to have used were the cause of death. Michal Miko, director of the Romanonet organization, has posted online that what the video shows is "The height of brutality."
Michal Mižigár, a Romani student of history and Romani Studies, who won the Aspen Central Europe Leadership Award in 2019 from the Aspen Institute Central Europe, commented that the footage shows "The Romani Floyd today in Teplice!" Recalling the attack on Romani children at a summer camp run by the Romani musician Ida Kelarová and the death of a Romani man in police custody inside a pizzeria in Žatec, he added: "I feel genuinely powerless and sad. This is not the first case."
Romena.cz further said that ‘the footage circulating on social media shows three officers intervening against a young Romani man who keeps trying to get out from under them. One officer holds the man's feet, another then kneels on his neck for several minutes.
A third officer helps handcuff the man, who is shouting. Several Romani people bystanders can be heard in the footage commenting on the intervention. "They're smothering him," a woman's voice can be heard to say. "That's their job," a man's voice says, defending the police intervention.
"Stay down, don't get up," another Romani man advises. According to the spokesperson for the emergency rescue services in the Ústecký Region, Prokop Voleník, a scuffle had been reported between two drug-addicted people who were under the influence of narcotics at the time.
"When the police patrol arrived at the scene, one of the men fled while the other was subdued by the officers and handcuffed," police spokersperson Veronika Hyšplerová told the tabloid news server Blesk.cz. Officers called an ambulance because the arrested man was under the influence of drugs.
"He then died in that state," the police spokesperson said, rejecting the notion that the intervention by police caused the man's death. According to former British police officer Petr Torák, MBE, a Romani émigré from the Czech Republic, while it is too early to draw conclusions, the situation does remind him of the death of George Floyd as well.
"From the video footage it is apparent that yet another person has died as a consequence of a police intervention. Is this the Czech version of Floyd's case? I will be carefully following the investigation and hoping that if the officers are found to be at fault, the Czech legal system and all of society will condemn this police brutality and hold the officers accountable," Torák said.
Romani community member Emil Voráč, director of the Khamoro organization, has called for protests against police brutality in response to this incident.
"Nobody, not even police units, has the right to intervene with disproportionate force that causes a person to lose their life soon thereafter, even a person who might be drug-addicted or have other negative, pathological tendencies. Shouldn't the public be able to be sure that the police units will be professional and proportionate in their intervention?" he asks, calling on all who are bothered by such brutality to take action: "Let's finally lift up our heads and join forces, in these situations at the very least."
Meanwhile, this act by the Czech Police has been supported by Czech Interior Minister, Jan Hamacek. He said: “The intervening police officers have my full support. Anybody under the influence of addictive substances who breaks the law has to count on the police intervening. It is mainly thanks to the work of policemen and policewomen that we are among the top 10 safest countries in the world,"
Hamáček commented in response to a police tweet insisting the Teplice incident is not an example of a "Czech George Floyd".
Further, there is now a remembrance site in Teplice, Czech Republic, where ‘Romani Lives Matter’ has been inscribed on one of the ribbons around a floral offering place there’. However, ‘police say the preliminary results of a court-ordered autopsy show the man died as a consequence of a drug overdose’.
The death of the young Romani man is deeply worrying and the actions of the police are even more worrying. Even, if the police’s action, when three police officers knelt on the young man’s neck, did not mainly contribute to the death of this man, questions must be raised about the use of force that the police officers used.
While it has not had the same impact as the death of George Floyd, it still shows that lessons need to be learned and actions of this magnitude, cannot continue to be the norm and even if the police are blameless, excessive use of force of this magnitude must end.