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“We serve and protect!”?

Police brutality against the Roma – The case of Tomas Stanislav

This post is also available in: Magyar (Hungarian)

Just opened my eyes on Monday morning last week, when my friend sent me an article with the following title: “Romani man dies after Czech Police kneel on his neck, they say drugs caused his death. Romani activists see parallels to George Floyd”. I got paralyzed. I did not know whether I am still dreaming or just the Monday tiredness confused me. Then I read the article again. And again. And Again…until I started to cry and realized that I am not dreaming at all. I am in an earthly purgatory, and I am not alone. 

What a Monday morning to start the week, right?

On the 19th of June Tomas Stanislav, a Romani man from the Czech Republic, died in the ambulance after a policeman kneeled on his neck for several minutes. “Thank” for a video recording which an eyewitness has made, thousand (if not millions) of people have watched over and over again, how Tomas Stanislav was tortured and suffered under the knee of a white Czech policeman. After his death, Czech Roma activists have started to mobilize and share more information with the bigger international activist-field about the circumstances of this brutal case. Roma and pro-Roma organizations have made public statements and organized demonstrates in several European cities, where they demanded thorough investigation to the case and justice for Tomas Stanislav. Since the Czech police has made the statement, that the death of Stanislav was not caused by the policeman but the consequences of the drugs which Stanislav have taken, we can see that the Czech police washes its hands and does not want to take any responsibility for the terrible happening. 

If we look at this case in a broader context, we can see that unfortunately police brutality and state violence against the Roma is not so unique. Roma people have suffered from all kinds of authority (from kings, soldier’s, to the police) since the very beginning of their arrival to Europe. Antigypsyism is so deeply rooted in our history, that it is impossible to separate autocratic brutality from our lived experiences as Roma people. Whether we talk about forced assimilations when the majority killed Roma people if they spoke their mother tongue, whether we take the case of Roma genocide during the Nazi persecution, or the so called “Roma murderings” from 2008 to 2009 in Hungary. We carry the burden of these generational traumas since we exist. 

Of course, Roma are not the only ones who suffer from systematic oppression and police brutality. That is why it is understandable why even in the title of article it is also mentioned that Roma activists see parallel to the case of George Floyd. George Perry Floyd Jr.  was an African American man from Fayetteville (North Carolina, U.S.). Floyd was arrested on the street on 25th May 2019 on the street in Minneapolis, and just as Tomas Stanislav, the white policeman kneeled on his neck for several minutes. While Stanislav died at the ambulance, Floyd has lost his life under the knee of Derek Chauvin. The death of George Floyd shaked the whole world, and the well-known Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) called millions of people for action against police brutality. Black people all over the world, just as the Roma, are subject to everyday racism, including ethnic profiling and unacceptable violations of their human rights.  

Being very honest, I was very mad when I saw in the news and on social media that people call Tomas Stanislav as the “Czech George Floyd”. And not because I do not see the similarities between the two cases, or that I do not believe in transnational solidarity. However, in my opinion there are four major points, why I would avoid calling for a “Roma Lives Matter Movement” or calling it as “the Czech George Floyd” case. 

First of all, I do think that we owe a minimum respect to Tomas Stanislav and say his name when we talk about his death. It is important to name him and practice solidarity for his family.

Secondly, as I mentioned earlier, while we do share similar experiences with the Black and other communities, especially when it comes to racism and systematic oppression, we also have different historical backgrounds, and there might be different ways of how Roma experience everyday struggle. Therefore, we cannot not put all cases under one category.

Thirdly, at some point I felt that with or without any bad intention, the people who call Tomas Stanislav as the “Roma Floyd”, used the worldwide visibility of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement. It will sound very bad, but they basically used it as a media marketing tool to raise more attention to the death of Tomas Stanislav. For me personally, this is an inappropriate act against the BLM movement and all the pain and efforts that the Black community felt and still feel when they talk about Floyd. 

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, I do believe that we Roma people have all the potential to initiate and then lead our own movements, even it is about calling for justice for Tomas Stanislav, or police brutality in general. Of course, there are many difficulties that we face with when it comes to self-organizing and I cannot know right now whether there will be any major change after Stanislav`s case. However, I do think that we have to have our own initiatives, where of course everyone should be welcome regardless of their colour, gender, religion, etc. 

It is really hard to tell whether justice will be given to Tomas Stanislav, to his family, and the Roma community. It is even a harder to question what justice means actually. Derek Chauvin, the policeman who murdered George Floyd, was sentenced to prison for 22.5 years. Is 22.5 years in prison equals to a death of a human being? Will the Czech police even take responsibility for the happenings and do proper investigation? How the Roma community should go forward? These are the questions which are unanswered for now.

All I know for sure, is that we have to keep fighting and demand justice. Not only for Tomas Stanislav, but for all the innocent Roma people who have lost their lives due to systematic violence and racism. At the end, I would like to share a quote from Angela Davis, one of the fighters of the Black Panther Party, political activist, and scholar, who continuously raises her voice against police brutality. 

“I am no longer accepting the things I can not change. I am changing the things, I can not accept.”

We are our ancestors’ wildest dream

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