People who attended the 10,000-strong protest in Brussels against racism Sunday should respect “barrier gestures” for 15 days as a precaution against spreading coronavirus, the head of the Belgian government’s epidemic contact-tracing strategy, Emmanuel André, said.
In a tweet late on Sunday night he backed the protestors but stressed that “if racism didn’t exist, 10,000 people wouldn’t have had to remind Brussels that we are all equal. To these people, I ask them to strictly respect the barrier gestures for 15 days and to continue their fight all their life.”
The demonstration outside the city’s Palace of Justice court was not officially permitted, but “tolerated” by the city authorities. It began peacefully, but later in the day there was some violence directed at police and sporadic looting. Officers used water cannon and made around 150 arrests.
Organisers said the protest was necessary to highlight systemic racism in Belgium in spite of the pandemic. Mireille-Tseusi Robert, president Bamko-Cran, an anti-racism association, warned that “lives of black people count less in Belgium, as they do in other countries too. Racism against Black people is one of the most shared in the world,” speaking of the widespread use of “black-face”, namely as part of pre-Christmas traditions in the country.
Regarding the potential for spreading the infection, Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès tweeted her regret that “it has not been possible to find an alternative that respects health regulations and the efforts of those on the front line in the fight against the epidemic.”
Among the French-speaking liberal movement, Georges-Louis Bouchez, president of the MR party, criticized socialist Brussels mayor, Philippe Close, for failing to enforce hygiene measures. He said that the mayor “had guaranteed to the organizers and to the demonstrators that sanitary measures would be respected. It is clear that he failed to do so.” George-Louis Bouchez also called on Close to “to take responsibility for the consequences of yesterday’s actions.”
The Brussels mayor responded Monday that his administration “had to balance health measures against freedom of expression. When we have demonstrations all over the world, we have to find solutions. Perhaps they [the MR] have a problem with the theme of the demonstration.”
An NV-A MP, Darya Safai, condemned on Twitter the looting and destruction of shops, as well as violence against the police. Ecolo Co-President, Rajae Maouane, underscored that protesters came wearing face masks, while condemning the violent minority, “which should not make us forget the 10,000 who demonstrated with dignity.”